Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
Jamaica’s first Sex Offenders’ Registry is ready, but not in use as the court is yet to supply the name and details of a single perpetrator, as is required by law.
Custodian of the registry, Lieutenant Colonel Sean Prendergast who is also commissioner of corrections, revealed that the regulations and technological support needed for the establishment of the registry are in place.
“The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has designed a database and we have the registry ready,” said Prendergast. “As soon as the court starts sending the information, we will update the database,” the prison boss added.
In the meantime, Peter Wilson of the Legal Services Unit in the Ministry of Justice said he could not give a timeline when the Sex Offenders’ Register and Registry would become operational.
“This matter has been referred to the Attorney General’s (AG) Chambers for their advice and opinion on certain aspects of the registry’s operation and practice. As such, I am unable to give a definitive answer as to when the Sex Offenders’ Register and Registry will become operational,” noted Wilson in a written response to Sunday Gleaner queries.
Asked if the general public would be able to view the Sex Offenders’ Registry, Wilson said this was one of the sticking points that have been referred to the AG’s Chambers.
“This is one of the issues that we have referred for the esteemed advice of the Attorney General’s Chambers having regard to the possible infringement of constitutional rights and the balance between public interest and personal rights,” he said.
Prendergast explained that the information to be entered into the registry would be supplied on a specific form and the DCS will “act as the custodian to the information”.
Meanwhile, Dr Carolyn Gomes, executive director of human-rights lobby Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), said there are concerns about the registry's likely impact on the human rights of sex offenders. "The general concern about registries is that people have served their time and done their punishment, yet you are stigmatising them and leaving them vulnerable," she said.
In addition, Susan Goffe, who was the human-rights lobby's point person during the deliberative process before the bill was passed into law, said that there are lingering concerns about the circumstances under which persons are listed in the registry and what provisions are available for the removal of persons from the registry.
"There should be opportunities for review," she said pointing out the delicate balance that must be achieved in serving the public interest without encroaching on the offender's human rights.
The Sexual Offences Act was signed into law on October 20, 2009. It contains provisions that deal harshly with sex crimes and was accepted by both sides of the House of Representatives in late January 2009, which paved the way for its enactment.
With the advent of the Sexual Offences Act, a man who is found guilty of raping a woman as well as any person who commits a grievous sexual assault or aids and abets a grievous sexual assault can face a sentence of life imprisonment. Marital rape is also covered under the act as an offence committed only by a husband against his wife.
The enactment of the Sexual Offences Act repealed the Incest (Punishment) Act and certain provisions of the Offences Against the Person Act. It also made new provision for the prosecution of rape and other sexual offences and provided for the establishment of a Sex Offenders’ Registry.
Section 29 of the act says “there shall be a Sex Offenders’ Register and a Sex Offenders’ Registry”.
The prison boss noted that the registry will not operate retroactively. As a result, the names of sex offenders who are currently serving time or have been released from prison will not be included unless they commit a sex crime in the future.
“Anyone with a prior sex offence conviction would not be on it. It is from this point onward,” Prendergast explained.
The anti-sex crime law also states that “the registry shall be under the day-to-day management of the commissioner of corrections and the register shall be maintained therein”.
According to the act, the register shall consist of information supplied by persons who are required to make a report under Section 30 and such other information as may be prescribed
Section 30 of the act states that “the particulars of every conviction for a specified offence committed after the coming into operation of this part” shall be furnished ... to the Sex Offenders’ Registry”.
However, there are exemptions. For instance, Subsection 3 of Section 30 of the act says: “A judge of the Supreme Court (whether or not the judge before whom the specified offence is tried) may direct that a person who has been convicted of a specified offence be exempt from any or all of the registration and reporting requirements” if it is a first time-offender who is being convicted for a specified offence; if the offender is a child; if the sentence imposed for the offence is of minimal severity or if the judge is satisfied that the effect of the imposition of such requirements on the offender, including on his privacy or liberty, would be grossly disproportionate to the public interest to be achieved by registering the offender as a sex offender.