New Zealand's Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Government Agency Registration) Act 2016 came into effect on 14 October 2016.
It is a retrospective piece of legislation, so anyone currently serving a prison sentence for crimes against children - victims under 16 years old - will be reviewed upon their release to determine whether they qualify for CSO Registration.
"This is not simply a list of names," said Social Development Minister Anne Tolley, in a press release when the legislation came into force.
“Children deserve to be safe in their communities. The register allows authorities to be more proactive in identifying risk and working to prevent reoffending and the harm that this causes to children.”
The register, which is not accessible to the public, is jointly run by the New Zealand Police in consultation with the Department of Corrections.
Set out in section 3, the purpose of the Act is to establish a Child Sex Offender Register that will reduce sexual reoffending against child victims, and the risk posed by serious child sex offenders by:
(a) providing government agencies with the information needed to monitor child sex offenders in the community, including after the completion of the sentence; and
(b) providing up-to-date information that assists the Police to more rapidly resolve cases of child sexual offending.
The Act defines registrable offenders as those 18 years old and over at the time they committed a qualifying offence, who were found guilty and jailed as a result.
Offenders are considered depending on which category their offence qualifies in:
- Class 1 - Offences considered to be paedophile-light: indecent communication, meeting a young person following grooming, use of underage prostitutes, possession of objectionable material, etc.
- Class 2 – Offences considered to be indecent: acts that are induced by a threat, are performed on a family member, any act on a child under 12 years old, indecent assault, sexual acts on those with significant impairment, etc.
- Class 3 - Offences that are considered severe: both attempted assault and assault with intent, violation, sexual connection with a person under the age of 12, and exploiting a person under 16 with significant impairment. This class also covers any severe ‘party or accessory to’ acts with a child under 16.
Some lawyers have voiced their concern over language used within the Act and potential stumbling blocks that could arise, including over-burdening of both the Corrections Department and the Police force, and too much onus on the offender.
“Various mandatory considerations are set out there, but an order may only be made if the court is satisfied that the offender ‘poses a risk to the lives or sexual safety’ of a child or children," says Nelson lawyer Steven Zindel.
The information provided by/and about offenders is accessible only to authorised parties within authorised departments (MSD, Housing New Zealand, DIA and Customs).
The departments view information sharing as an important part of prevention and monitoring the risk of reoffending by child sex offenders.
Authorised members of the police force will also be able to release some information about an offender to a third party, but only if there is a threat to the safety of a child/ children.
Commenting on how the Police and Corrections may handle information sharing Mr Zinedel says "Given the subject matter and the prevalent fear of being blamed in the media or sued for any sex offender not tracked properly, I believe that a tough approach will be adopted.”
“No-one will want these offenders in their back yards…”
Identification, fingerprints and photos may also be taken and stored by the authorised departments.
“Overall, there is plenty of technical compliance required and much room to slip up in conveying the necessary information," Mr ZIndel says.
He says the general feeling among lawyers he has spoken too is that “the information requirements could be rather Orwellian and a burden on police and Corrections.”
“Overall, there is plenty of technical compliance required and much room to slip up in conveying the necessary information.
The primary objective of the register is to make sure those on the list are accountable at all times. Offenders must visit a police station and submit reports to an authorised Police officer over the duration of their CSO Registration. CSOs must also file reports with the Police when any change to their personal information or any permanent physical alteration to their appearance are made.