: Serious sex offender legislation passed

Serious sex offender legislation passed

Sue Erickson
Northern Territory

The Serious Sex Offenders Act was passed in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly on 26 March 2013. The Act introduces a new scheme which sets out a primary objective (section 3), ‘to enhance the protection and safety of victims of serious sex offences and the community … by allowing for the control, by continued detention or supervised release, of offenders who have committed serious sex offences and pose a serious danger to the community’.

If a person is considered a ‘serious danger to the community’, the Attorney-General may apply to the Supreme Court for a continuing detention order (which includes an order for indefinite detention of the person) or a supervision order for the person which would be in effect after the person has completed their sentence. A person is a ‘serious danger to the community’ if the Supreme Court decides that there is an unacceptable risk that he or she will commit a serious sex offence, unless he or she is in custody, or subject to a supervision order (section 6). The Court must be satisfied ‘to a high degree of probability’ (section 7).

The scheme will apply to persons who were convicted prior to the commencement of the legislation. A similar scheme is currently in force in four other jurisdictions.

The Attorney-General detailed to the Legislative Assembly the case of serial paedophile Shane Tennyson from Tennant Creek who, in 2011, committed a sexual offence on a three-year-old child six weeks after he completed a sentence for another child sex offence. When in Opposition, the Attorney-General tried to introduce a similar scheme in 2011 as a private member but was unsuccessful. The Act supports the CLP’s pre-election platform to strengthen law and order, and is supported by the Chief Minister Adam Giles, who defended the laws which are intended to provide a safe environment for Territorians, including children.

The legislation has been criticised by the Opposition, Independent MLA Gerry Wood and the Criminal Lawyers Association of the Northern Territory (‘CLANT’), who have expressed concern about detaining persons for crimes they have not yet committed or attempting to predict a person’s likelihood of reoffending. CLANT and Mr Wood also noted the high level of the Attorney-General’s involvement in the scheme, which is not replicated in the schemes in the other jurisdictions. Rather, they consider the enforcement of this Act should be confined to the independent statutory authority, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the Supreme Court.

SUE ERICKSON is Assistant Parliamentary Counsel at the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in Darwin.

(2013) 38(2) AltLJ 130
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