Page 3951 - Week 12 - Thursday, 20 October 2005

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In July this year, I asked eminent criminologist Associate Professor David Biles OAM to report on options for dealing with high-risk sexual offenders in the ACT. I asked Professor Biles to survey the various sentencing and release models for high-risk sexual offenders, assess those models for compatibility with the Human Rights Act, assess the effectiveness of treatment programs in reducing the risk of reoffending, and estimate the number of cases that might arise in the ACT under each model.

Professor Biles cast a wide net. He examined models from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and the Australian states and territories. He also reviewed the literature on recidivism and identified the likely rights and freedoms involved in human rights compatibility. His timely inquiry has provided us with an important analysis of what is being done here and around the world.

I released Professor Biles’s report to the public on 17 October 2005. The report canvasses four options: taking no action, that is, continuing with the ACT’s existing sex offender programs; legislating for indefinite sentences; introducing some form of post-sentence community supervision; and making provision for post-sentence continuing detention.

Professor Biles makes no recommendations on a preferred option. He points out that the number of offenders who would be covered by such schemes is extremely small, amounting to a couple of people in a jurisdiction and perhaps four in the ACT. He also notes that the incidence of reoffending is low for those who have undergone treatment, such as that already provided by ACT Corrective Services through its sex offenders treatment program.

In exploring models for dealing with high-risk sexual offenders, Professor Biles found that some jurisdictions have laws dealing specifically with sexual offenders. Others have general laws that may apply to sexual offenders. Still others have laws that are not applicable to sexual offenders, but contain similar measures to control other offending behaviour.

There is considerable diversity between jurisdictions, but some consistent themes emerge from the survey. Each model establishes a threshold and mechanism to identify high-risk offenders. Each model serves to assist in detection, prevention or rehabilitation of offenders, or a combination of these purposes. All models have differing emphasis on the roles of the judiciary and the executive in applying these schemes.

As well as explaining how these models work, Professor Biles’s report canvasses potential issues under the Human Rights Act. All of the models under consideration will engage the right not to be deprived of liberty except on the grounds and in accordance with procedures established by law, that is, the Human Rights Act, section 18. They also engage other rights, including the right to privacy, freedom of movement, fair trial and, in particular, the presumption of innocence. Any model would, of course, need to be justified and proportional. In considering the human rights issues and international cases discussed in the report, the government will examine the implications of the case law from comparative human rights jurisdictions.

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