Since my last blog the Employment Law Conference was held in Auckland, a national conference for employment lawyers which is only held every two years. I attended with my colleagues and the timing was perfect: a thorough and interesting initiation into life at the New Zealand employment bar with a chance to see some of the best employment lawyers in New Zealand speak on topical subjects.
I have also been learning about new legislation in the criminal field. New Zealand has just introduced the Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Government Agency Registration) Act 2016: the first ‘Sex Offenders Register’ in New Zealand. It has been interesting to be involved in discussions about this legislation as a practitioner from a jurisdiction with an established register. The legislation here has received a mixed reception and is certainly controversial. Aside from debate over the content of the legislation, there is already concern that the police will be unable to cope with the additional strain on resources.
There is some divergence in the way the register operates in comparison to our own. Notably there is no right of public access to the register akin to our ‘Sarah’s Law’. This is something which was hotly debated in New Zealand with the result that it was felt that the harm would outweigh the benefits if members of the public could access the register. The release of information held on the register cannot be effected by a request from the public. Police and Corrections cannot release information about a registered person unless it is assessed that there is a need to do so to protect a child or children from a significant threat and it must be done at the instigation of those agencies, not the public. In these situations, details about the registered offender can be disclosed to the relevant people involved with the children, such as parents or schools, but there are strict controls about the further dissemination of the information. It seems that this mechanism will be triggered if, for example, an offender who is deemed a risk moves into the vicinity of a school. In that case, the headmaster of the school may be informed about the offender’s inclusion on the register.
Interestingly, the Act will apply retrospectively to a certain extent: when the register commenced on 14 October offenders who have been convicted of a qualifying offence, and are still in prison or have been released but are subject to release conditions or on extended supervision orders with the Corrections Department, were registered. Those living in the community under release conditions or orders following their term of imprisonment will need to start reporting and it will be interesting to see the inevitable logistical difficulties which will ensue in the coming weeks and months.
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