New sex offender register for Western Australia

Joshua Berson
Western Australia

The WA Legislative Assembly passed the Community Protection (Offender Reporting) Amendment Bill (No 2) 2011 (WA) on 1 December 2011 with the support of the Government and the Opposition. It has been introduced into the Legislative Council and will be debated when that house resumes sitting in March 2012. This Bill will introduce a publicly accessible online sex offender register with three tiers of disclosure.

The first tier of disclosure applies to sexual offenders who are considered a ‘serious danger to the community’ and are subject to a supervision order under the Dangerous Sexual Offenders Act 2006 (WA) (‘DSO Act’). If such an offender fails to comply with their reporting obligations and the offender’s whereabouts are unknown, the Commissioner of Police may publish the offender’s personal details online.

Personal details that the Commissioner may publish are extensive and include the offender’s name, date of birth, known addresses and all contact information. Disturbingly, the Commissioner may publish the offender’s employment information, including the name of the offender’s employer. This may further impair the employment prospects of offenders subject to such supervision orders.

Additionally, there are serious questions as to whether there is a need for legislative action in relation to this first tier of disclosure. There is currently a non-publicly available sex offender register with 2557 offenders listed, none of whom are currently missing.

The second tier of disclosure enables the Commissioner to publish photographs and the general locality (town or suburb) of three categories of offenders. The first category includes persons subject to a DSO Act supervision order. Next are those who have committed an offence with a sexual or serious element involving a child or an incapable person, who then commit another similar offence. The final category is for persons found guilty of an offence punishable by five years imprisonment or more, irrespective of the nature of the offence, where the Minister for Police has determined that person poses a risk to the lives or sexual safety of others.

The extension of the second tier of disclosure to individuals who have never been convicted of a sexual offence appears to extend the category of offenders too broadly. This is particularly so given that, although offenders may be heard in relation to the decision to publish their photographs and locality, the ultimate discretion remains with the Minister and Commissioner instead of an independent body.

Finally, the third tier of disclosure enables parents or guardians of children to ask the Commissioner whether a specific person has committed an offence with a sexual or serious element involving a child or an incapable person.

The WA Police Union and the Law Society of Western Australia are concerned that the proposed amendments could promote vigilante action and drive underground offenders who are currently monitored. Although the Bill contains offence provisions targeting unauthorised publication of information from the register and the harassment of identified offenders, such actions may be difficult to police effectively. Finally, the Bill’s purported objective is to inform families and communities about known sex offenders to assist in the protection and safety of children. However, it is unclear just how a publicly available register will achieve this aim.

JOSHUA BERSON works with the State Solicitor’s Office.

(2012) 37(1) AltLJ 67
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