Child-sex offender register gets OK

The Government is pushing ahead with a child-sex offender register, which could eventually be expanded to include other sexual offenders.

Police and Corrections Minister Anne Tolley has confirmed ministers signed off on plans to establish the database with an announcement expected within the next few weeks. The database will not be open to the public.

It will be managed by the police, and only available to officials with security clearance from agencies such as the Department of Corrections and the Ministry of Social Development.

If National is returned to Government at September's election, Tolley hopes to introduce the register by the end of the year.

Initially, the list will run to about 350 names and include those who have been released from prison or are serving a community sentence. Offenders with name suppression would not be excluded. It is expected the index will eventually be expanded to target other sex offenders.

Tolley said research on the idea was "extensive". "We want to stop these people falling through the cracks and disappearing into our communities at the end of their sentences," she said.

"We want to know where they are and have more information about their circumstances, so they can be managed, and increased risks of reoffending can be detected before they take place so that we have the chance to take action."

While she believed there needed to be "one definitive place with all of the information", it should not be open to everyone.

"Making it public could identify victims, and could drive offenders underground where they can't be managed," she said.

It was revealed more than two years ago that officials were working on a proposal after it emerged that paedophile Te Rito Henry Miki was working as a teacher.

Establishing the register will require new legislation. Policy work by police and Corrections officials has included balancing the rights of offenders who have completed a sentence, with the wider safety of the public.

The register will likely be based on the British index, which lists details of around 30,000 people who were convicted, cautioned or freed from prison for sexual offences against children or adults.

Failure to register is an offence punishable by imprisonment. The length of time a person remains on the index depends on the offence.

Under that system, offenders must register with police within three days of conviction or release from jail. They are required to register every year, notify a change of address or whether they will be away for seven days or more.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said his party gave the register "qualified support" and could run with the idea if it were elected into Government next month.

"If a register was limited to serious offences like child-sex offences, and if access to it was limited to authorities who are relevant to people's access to those children, for example schools and CYF, then we would be prepared to give it qualified support," he said.

"Our concerns are in managing any register. Firstly, [that] we don't get a gradual creep of scope and access. And, secondly, that the integrity of the data is maintained. That's important because the Government doesn't have a terribly good track record in keeping information private."

If the register were broadened to minor offences, he couldn't support it.

"It could be a civil liberties issue about people being demonised for relatively minor infringements."

Law and order pressure group Sensible Sentencing Trust have called for the register to be open. But Rethinking Crime and Punishment have argued it would unnecessarily stoke public fear.

The Dominion Post