Sex offenders to be added back on to register after urgent law change

The change is being made on Wednesday afternoon.
The change is being made on Wednesday afternoon. Photo credit: Getty.

Nearly 600 child sex offenders will be put back on to the national register after MPs rushed through an urgent, retrospective law change at Parliament.

Amendments to the Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Government Agency Registration) Act 2016 were passed through all stages under urgency on Wednesday evening with support from every party except the Greens.

On February 9, the Supreme Court ruled the 2016 Act was not clear when it came to people who committed an offence before it came into force but were convicted and sentenced after that time.

It resulted in hundreds of individuals being removed from the register.

The Act now applies to all individuals who have committed a qualifying child sex offence, regardless of when the offence occurred.

During the amendment bill's first reading, Police Minister Poto Williams said the government must ensure those who had been removed are put back onto the register and monitored by police.

"The reason for having a register is to ensure that police are able to monitor those people to make sure that they know where they work, that they are clear about whether they work with children or not and are clear about their plans for travel, and that they know their names, their addresses, and suchlike, and without that, we cannot be sure that appropriate monitoring is in place," Williams said.

Parliament has passed amendments to the 2016 law under urgency to ensure the nearly 600 individuals are put back onto the register.

Earlier Williams said the longer sex offenders were off the register, the less ability police had to monitor them.

"The police have had an ability to monitor most of those people, but the longer they are off the register, the harder it will be for them to monitor that", she told reporters.

Williams was earlier asked if there had been any incidents with any of these offenders while they were off the list and not under full police monitoring.

"We've been working at pace," she told reporters, "to ensure that we can get them back on the register, we've got the ability to continue to monitor for a short period of time, but we need to get them on the register to ensure that they can".

The Green Party was the only party to oppose the amendments.

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman questioned the need for a register and what evidence there was that it kept children safe.

"Children and young people are most often abused, in terms of the types of offending that this piece of legislation encompasses, by those who are very well known to them, in their own homes. They are very rarely abused by strangers," she said.

"These registers have existed and been applied in other jurisdictions for many years. It's a measure that we've taken, we've decided to take it. It's neither here nor there, I guess we could say, if there's no evidence that it works. But to persist with it, to lie to ourselves, to lie to victims and the public and say that we're doing something that is essential to protecting children and young people whilst we weaken the rule of law as a Parliament is, I would say, unacceptable."

There is no doubt the welfare of children is a top priority, Ghahraman said, but she told the House that MPs must uphold the rule of law.

The amendments breach the Bill of Rights Act because they represent retrospectively applied legislation, Ghahraman said.

"It is disappointing to hear members talk about the rights and welfare of children, indeed human rights conventions at the international level, whilst we know that this bill is undermining New Zealand's own commitment to our fundamental domestic and international rights when it comes to the rule of law and to the fairness of our justice system," she said.

National MP Simeon Brown said the Green Party's position was "outrageous".

"We're not debating here the policy intent over whether there should be a child sex registry or not ... What we're debating here today is whether 600 offenders who have been put on the child sex registry should be removed due to the fact that the court, the Supreme Court, took a different interpretation than what the intent of Parliament was.

"I just think it's astounding that they are continuing to oppose this legislation on the basis of some form of high and mighty principles, when what they're saying is that, by voting against, they would be happy for those 600 individuals to be removed from the registry and not have to have the scrutiny, not have the requirements of police being notified of their movements, their addresses, and all of those other things," Brown told the House.

It was astounding the Greens were playing politics with such a serious problem, he said.