The New Zealand Law Society says the proposed child sex offender register is unlikely to be effective in protecting children from the risk of sexual offending.
"The proposed register needs to be re-designed so that it's targeted at child sex offenders who are likely to reoffend," Law Society law reform committee member Tim Stephens says. The Law Society submission on the bill has been presented to the Social Services select committee.
Under the Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Register) Bill, the proposed register takes a 'blanket' approach by classifying sex offenders as a homogenous group, but the risk of individuals re-offending can vary greatly. Registers also perpetuate the view that strangers commit sexual offending, whereas sexual offending most often occurs by people who are known to victims, Mr Stephens says.
Advice from officials indicates there is limited evidence overseas about the effectiveness of child sex offender registers, and the Attorney-General has noted a scarcity of evidence that registers deliver significant benefits in terms of improved public safety.
The Law Society is also concerned that the proposed register would infringe rights affirmed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, and says if the bill proceeds it should include amendments to reduce the rights infringements.
"Given the lack of evidence about the effectiveness of sex offender registers, and the Bill of Rights problems with the approach taken, the Law Society recommends that the bill should not proceed. It recommends an alternative, more targeted approach directed at the identification of individual offenders with a high potential to reoffend.
"This alternative model would ensure that measures appropriate for those offenders who pose a significant risk of future sexual offending against children are not extended automatically to those who pose no such risk," Mr Stephens says.
Under the bill, offenders will stay on the register for 8 years, 15 years or life, based on the qualifying offence committed. Convicted child sex offenders serving a sentence at the time the legislation comes into force, or convicted afterwards, would need to be registered. The register is scheduled to be in place by July 2016.
Tim Stephens outlines the New Zealand Law Society's position on the Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Register) Bill: watch the video.