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UK Supreme Court rules sex offenders can challenge inclusion on registry

[JURIST] The UK Supreme Court [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] Wednesday that the country's sex offender registry [Guardian backgrounder] requirement violates the right to privacy. The case involved an appeal filed by two convicted sex offenders who challenged the notification requirement [legislative materials] of Section 82 of the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, which mandates indefinite notification for any individual sentenced to 30 or more months in prison for a sex offense. The trial court ruled that Section 82 of the Act was incompatible with privacy rights guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights [materials]. The Supreme Court considered several issues before affirming that dismissal, including how valuable the notification requirements are for achieving the goal of lower crime, and the extent of harm to that goal if the notification requirements were subject to review. The court considered empirical evidence that, over a 21-year period, 75 percent of sex offenders in the UK were not re-convicted, and that, despite the possibility that a convicted offender may be able to prove he will not re-offend, he or she has no recourse. Lord Phillips, writing for the court, concluded:

I think that it is obvious that there must be some circumstances in which an appropriate tribunal could reliably conclude that the risk of an individual carrying out a further sexual offence can be discounted to the extent that continuance of notification requirements is unjustified. As the courts below have observed, it is open to the legislature to impose an appropriately high threshold for review.

As the Court suggested, the UK legislature will have to craft a review process for the notification requirement. It is not clear what will happen to individuals already on the notification register, and any change will be delayed until the upcoming general election [Telegraph backgrounder] has passed.

Wednesday's ruling is the second high-profile result regarding individual rights and sex offenders in the UK in the past week. On Monday, a Pakistani man, currently serving a jail term for a sex offense, won an appeal against deportation [Times Online report] because he has a wife and child in the UK and has lived there legally for 20 years. That ruling resulted in significant public outrage [Lancashire Telegraph report], and the Home Office [official website] has indicated it will appeal the ruling. There are currently more than 24,000 individuals in the UK subject to the registry requirement, and, in the past, the government has had to reduce the sentence [Telegraph report] of some sex offenders because of prison overcrowding [JURIST news archive].

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