16 December 2021

ACT considering stricter reporting requirements for child sex offenders

| Lottie Twyford
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ACT Minister for Police and Emergency Services Mick Gentleman

ACT Minister for Police and Emergency Services Mick Gentleman wants to toughen the laws governing mandatory reporting of child abuse. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

People convicted of child sex offences could soon face harsher penalties if they fail to comply with their reporting requirements under new proposed laws in the ACT to be debated next year.

Currently, registrable offenders can claim ‘forgetfulness’ as a reason they failed to comply with reporting requirements, and ACT Minister for Police and Emergency Services Mick Gentleman wants to see this change.

Certain registrable offenders are subject to reporting obligations such as keeping police informed of their whereabouts and other personal details.

This requirement is for a number of reasons, including to prevent them from working in child-related employment and to reduce the likelihood they will reoffend.

People who are required to report their details to police but fail to do so can have charges brought against them.

However, ACT Policing holds concerns that a number of prosecutions have been unsuccessful due to “the offender claiming forgetfulness as their reason for failing to report”, said Mr Gentleman.

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The proposed amendments will reframe the elements of the offences so ‘forgetfulness’ will no longer be considered grounds for acquittal.

“When registrable offenders who are subject to reporting obligations do not report to the police as required, this presents a risk to the safety of children,” said Mr Gentleman.

Child sex offenders who fail to report may still be acquitted if they can demonstrate there was a reasonable excuse for their failure to report.

The proposed bill sets out criteria such as the offender’s age, any disability the offender has, and whether the notice of reporting obligations was sufficient.

The proposed changes have been welcomed by ACT Policing, although its spokesperson noted the majority of offenders with reporting obligations already comply with these.

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The spokesperson said if the legislation is to come into effect, ACT Policing will conduct a mail-out of the change in legislation to each registered offender.

Registered offenders will also be advised during their annual meeting.

“Importantly, ACT Policing will be able to exercise greater discretion in terms of formally cautioning an offender who advises of a ‘sudden recollection’,” said the spokesperson.

“We expect to see greater compliance as a result of this. Of course, where there are repeated failures, prosecution becomes an option.”

Mr Gentleman added the amendments to the Crimes (Child Sex Offenders) Act are intended to enhance protections for children and the community at large.

“These amendments seek to ensure that offenders are held to account where they fail to abide by their reporting conditions, without reasonable excuse for that failure,” Mr Gentleman told the ACT Legislative Assembly.

The entire Crimes (Policing) Legislation Amendment Bill will be debated in the Assembly in 2022.

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