Q&A: Sex offenders register

Criminals who have been put on the sex offenders register for life are set to be given the right to challenge that decision.

It follows last year's Supreme Court ruling that - under human rights laws - offenders in England and Wales should have the opportunity to prove they had reformed and have their names removed from the list.

Home Office officials are examining how a review system would work. Details are expected to be published in the next few months.

What is the sex offenders register and who is on it?

There is no actual centrally-held register of sex offenders in England and Wales.

The name "the sex offender register" is commonly used to describe a system of notification, whereby offenders register their details with police.

It contains the details of anyone convicted, cautioned or released from prison for a sexual offence since September 1997, when it was set up.

Figures, dated October 2010, showed 48,000 people were registered in England and Wales.

How do police keep track of sex offenders?

Sex offenders are required to register in person at their local police station within 72 hours of being convicted or cautioned. They must give their name, date of birth, home address and national insurance number - if applicable.

The police may apply for anyone convicted of a sex offence abroad to be placed on the register.

It may also be a condition of registration that an offender notify the police if he or she is intending to travel abroad.

Failure to register attracts a fine and or a jail sentence of up to five years.

How long do they remain on the register?

There is a sliding scale applied to offenders required to register.

Anyone getting a jail term of 30 months to life is subject to an indefinite term of registration - currently there are about 24,000 such offenders in England and Wales.

A sentence of six months to 30 months is accompanied by 10 years on the register and a sentence of under six months requires registration of up to seven years.

This includes those cautioned or given a community rehabilitation order.

For those under 18, the length of time on the register is usually half that of the adult term.

Why do the rules have to change?

Last year, two convicted sex offenders used human rights laws to challenge the system. They won their appeal against life-time registration at the Supreme Court - the final court of appeal in the UK for civil cases.

It means offenders have the right to appeal to have their name removed.

But the home secretary says there will be no right of appeal if the decision is to keep an offender on the register.

What is the government going to do?

The Scottish government has already implemented a scheme to give adults offenders an automatic right of appeal for removal from the register after 15 years - those placed on the register when under 18 years old can appeal after eight years.

According to Home Secretary Theresa May, the rule will be more stringently applied in England and Wales.

Offenders will only be able to apply for consideration of removal after waiting 15 years following release from custody and there will be no automatic appeals.

"We will deliberately set the bar for those appeals as high as possible. Public protection must come first.

"A robust review, led by the police and involving all relevant agencies, will be carried out so that a full picture of the risks to the public can be considered," she said.

The final decision of whether an offender should remain on the register will be down to the police, not the courts, as in Scotland.

The government also intends to close four "loopholes" in the current law.

First, it will become compulsory for sex offenders to report to the authorities before travelling abroad for even one day - the limit is currently three days.

Secondly, sex offenders will have to notify the authorities whenever they are living in a household with a child under the age of 18 and they will be required to notify the authorities weekly as to where they can be found when they have no fixed abode.

Lastly, rules will be "tightened" so that sex offenders can no longer avoid being on the register when they change their name by deed poll.

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