What is the sex offenders register and when will it come into play?

The sex offenders register

What is the sex offenders register?

The sex offenders notification requirements is commonly known as the sex offenders’ register. This is a register containing the details of individuals convicted, cautioned or released from prison for a sexual offence against children or adults since 1997.

Does it only apply to offences since 1997?

The sex offenders register was established by the Sex Offenders Act 1997 (amended by the Sexual Offences Act 2003), but it is usually not retro-active, save for specific exceptions. This means it does not generally include the names of those convicted of sexual offences before it came into effect on 1 September 1997.

However, if the offender was convicted of a Schedule 3 offence but not yet dealt with on 1 September 1997, they will be subject to the notification requirements; and if on that date an offender was still serving a prison sentence; subject to a community order; detained in a hospital or was subject to a guardianship order; or out on licence, in respect of a Schedule 3 offence – the notification requirements apply.

Is it only for registration of sexual offences relating to children?

The sex offenders’ registry is not a ‘paedophiles’ register’ and is not limited only to offences against children. The definition of sexual offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is wide and covers a range of offences, against both children and other individuals, from rape to voyeurism.

What are the notification requirements?

Under the Sex Offenders Act, all convicted sex offenders must register with the police, in person, within three days of their conviction, or release from prison. The police are notified by the courts following a conviction; and both the prisons and probation service following an offenders release back into the community. This enables the police to monitor when individuals must come to register.

What information must be provided on registration?

On registering with the police, an offender must provide specific information including:

  • Their name (and any other names they may use)
  • Their address and any other address where they regularly stay
  • Whether living with a child; or if staying in a household where a child lives for at least 12 hours a day
  • Details of their conviction
  • Details of bank accounts to which they have access
  • Their date of birth
  • Their national insurance number
  • Details of any passports they may hold

Once registered, the police (as the Public Protection Team) will visit the offender at home to check they are living there, and to undertake an informal assessment.

What if an individual does not register within the three-day period?

It is a criminal offence for an individual to fail to register within three days and could result in a prison term of up to five years in prison.

Is there anything else which a registered offender must do?

Once registered, a convicted sex offender must continue this registration on an annual basis.

If a registered offender changes their name or address they must disclose this information to the police within three days. Furthermore, if they are to be spending seven days or more away from home they must also inform the police within three days. This is also the case if an offender wishes to travel outside of the UK.

Failure to notify the police of any of the above will also be a criminal offence.

How long will an individual’s details be kept on the sex offenders register?

The length of time an individual must remain on the sex offenders register will depend on the offence which they have committed, and the sentence passed. The length of time required to remain on the register is calculated as follows:

  • If an individual has been sentenced to life imprisonment; for more than 30 months; or imprisonment and admission to hospital under a restriction order – they will be placed on the sex offenders register indefinitely
  • If an individual has been sentenced to imprisonment for more than 6 months but less than 30 months – they will be placed on the sex offenders register for 10 years
  • If an individual has been sentenced to imprisonment for 6 months or less – they will be placed on the sex offenders register for 7 years
  • If an individual has been cautioned for an offence under the Sexual Offences Act – they will be placed on the sex offenders register for 2 years. If the offender was under 18, they will be placed on the register for 1 year

What powers do the police have in respect of registered sex offenders?

Police forces can photograph offenders every time they register, and exchange any information they have about registered offenders and their movements. A national computerised police database has been set up to facilitate this information sharing.

Police forces can also apply for registered sex offenders to be barred from certain activities and areas frequented by children. This is a civil order and is known as a ‘sex offenders order’. Breach of a sex offenders order will be a criminal offence.

High-risk offenders may also be subject to further surveillance by the police such as electronic tagging. This will be carried out by local multi-agency public protection panels which will include the police, probation, social services and any other required agencies. Under this scheme, offenders will be subject to strict licence conditions; and a breach of these conditions will constitute a criminal offence.

Which agencies will be notified of the movements of registered offenders?

The following will be notified, on a confidential basis, of the existence of a registered sex offender:

  • Head teachers
  • Doctors
  • Youth leaders
  • Sports club managers
  • Landlords

What is the position for individuals convicted of sexual offences which are no longer offences since the 2003 Act came into force?

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 abolished certain offences such as consensual sexual activity between men of consenting age. An individual who was subject to a notification requirement under the sex offenders register for sexual offences before the 2002 Act came into force can ask the Home Secretary to lift the registration and notification requirements.

What are the limitations of the sex offenders register?

The sex offenders register is widely considered not comprehensive enough, with many sexual offences (particularly against children) going unreported. Furthermore, civil liberties campaigners feel it unjust that the register covers all sexual offences. For instance, an underage teenager guilty of a consensual sexual act will be placed on the register alongside individuals convicted of child abuse and rape. However, there are no plans at present to change the sexual offenders’ notification requirements.

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Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.