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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children Outside the United Kingdom Phase 2 Investigation Report

B.4: Reform

26. Given the considerable disparity between the high number of registered sex offenders and the low number of orders made, it is a reasonable inference that there are more registered sex offenders whose travel could properly be restricted. The Inquiry considers that the number of civil orders made restricting foreign travel must increase.

27. We heard a number of proposals for strengthening the current civil orders regime which might achieve such an increase.

28. Witnesses referred to the difficulties in meeting the standard of proof applicable to an SRO, and so we considered whether it should be lowered to the civil law standard.[1] Furthermore, it was suggested that an applicant for an SRO be permitted to rely on closed evidence.[2] We do not consider that these reforms would be likely to lead to a substantial increase in the number of orders being made, even if concerns about the cost and procedural fairness of closed hearings could be justified.

29. Since 2017, the USA has adopted a system of unique identifiers inside the passport of those convicted of a sex offence against a child. This does not prevent sex offenders from travelling abroad, but those working in US embassies are reported to have found this to be a useful tool. Entry might still be permitted, however, if the identifier is not understood by immigration officials in the destination country.[3] There is also concern that the scheme could lead to individuals being harmed on entering countries with low human rights standards.[4] While there was some support for the adoption of a similar scheme in England and Wales,[5] overall it was considered disproportionate or of doubtful efficacy.[6] The Inquiry does not consider that the adoption of such a passport identifier scheme for British nationals would be sufficient to limit the risk that those with predatory intent may pose to children overseas from sexual abuse.

30. We note that, since 2017, the Australian government has imposed a complete ban on registered child sex offenders from travelling overseas. The context for the ban was an evidence base that around 800 registered child sex offenders had left Australia over four years without notifying the authorities and travelled to many destinations known for child sexual abuse by tourists. There were also concerns that, when notifications were given, they were not acted on by the destination country in time. Glen Hulley of Project Karma, who was actively involved in lobbying for the change in Australian legislation, considered that a complete ban was necessary, proportionate and the only effective means of protecting children.[7] Father Cullen also expressed support for the Australian system.[8]

31. More time is needed to see whether the Australian system has been effective in practice. Offenders might still be able to travel on a passport issued by another country.[9] A worldwide lifetime ban also raises proportionality questions and has the potential for misuse.[10]

32. A change in the approach to the use of civil orders is necessary to ensure that they are used more extensively. This will contribute to a reduction in the risks posed by known sex offenders travelling overseas.[11]

References

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