Response to paedophile punishment petition
INTRODUCING minimum sentences for convicted paedophiles would make it harder to punish lesser offences, subject victims to unnecessary trials, increase acquittals and discourage reporting of offences, the Home Affairs Minister has warmed.
During an in-committee States debate in response to an e-petition, Constable Len Norman also said that putting offenders on the Sex Offenders’ Register for life, as also suggested, would cause resourcing issues, making it difficult to monitor offenders.
The petition, which called for a three-year minimum sentence for people guilty of sexually abusing children, was launched by online vigilante Cheyenne O’Connor and received 5,100 signatures, prompting the debate.
Mr Norman said that it was an ‘important and sensitive’ topic and condemned the action of paedophiles, while pointing out that last year’s Sexual Offences Law had made Jersey one of the ‘most advanced’ jurisdictions in dealing with this type of crime.
He added that he believed minimum sentencing would cause a host of problems, including restricting the courts from being able to punish lesser offences appropriately.
‘All sexual offences can occur in a very wide range of circumstances and this is catered for in the new Sexual Offences Law,’ he said.
‘If the court cannot hand down any sentence below three years in prison then there is no appropriate tool in the armoury to deal with low-level offending.’
The minister said that an example of this could be when a 15-year-old and 17-year-old might be in a sexual relationship and may not realise they are breaking the law.
He added that minimum sentencing could also deter guilty pleas, cause victims to be subjected to more trials, cause acquittals because juries may view the punishment as too harsh for the crime and discourage reporting of offences.
The petition also called for offenders to be placed on the Sexual Offenders’ Register for life.
In response the minister said that he believed the current arrangements, where offenders are eventually removed, was ‘appropriate’.
‘Mandatory life periods of registration would be counter-productive, as they would introduce a new resourcing problem,’ he said.
‘With an average 25 new individuals subject to notification requirements every year, unless offenders are appropriately removed from the register, the numbers of individuals being managed would increase every year, restricting the level of monitoring and intervention that can be applied in each individual case.’
Later during the debate, Attorney-General Robert McRae said that Jersey did not need an independent body to ensure consistency of sentencing, like there was in England and Wales, because it was a small jurisdiction with only three courts. (Mags, Royal and Youth)
He added the Crown Officers always provide sentencing recommendations during cases, which helps maintain consistency.
During the debate a number of politicians said that they believe more should be done to prevent paedophiles from offending.
Deputy Rob Ward said: ‘Children’s Services must be fully resourced to protect children who are at risk and it is clear this has not been the case in the past.’
Other Members questioned whether there should be political interference by the States into the work of the judiciary in determining sentencing.