An 11-year-old boy who raped a six-year-old girl should have been given the death penalty. Or perhaps just branded with a hot iron and put on the sex offenders register for life.After all, why should he enjoy the protection of the country’s laws? He showed no concern for the little girl’s human rights so why should we respect his? And while we’re at it, it’s time to get out of Europe and repeal the Human Rights Act, which puts victims in jail and rewards criminals.
This bile, gleaned from the postings on two tabloid newspaper websites, stemmed from a Supreme Court judgment earlier this week when five judges said that sex offenders should be allowed to apply to have their names deleted from the sex offenders register.
They didn’t say that sex offenders' names should automatically be deleted from the register. They didn’t criticise the register. It’s a good thing, they said, if it stops people reoffending. But it makes no sense keeping someone’s name on it if that someone has demonstrated that he or she is unlikely to repeat his or her offence.
The fuss all began when in 2008 the 11-year-old boy (now 18) and a man convicted of indecently assaulting a girl 14 years previously went to the High Court to claim the right to appeal against their continued inclusion on the register. The High Court ruled that indefinite registration on the sex offenders register – with no right of review – was incompatible with a person’s rights to privacy and allowed their claim. The Home Office, however, challenged this ruling, but saw its case dismissed by the Supreme Court earlier this week. The claimants’ right to appeal has now been confirmed.
Supreme Court president Lord Phillips, probably aware of the shrieks of hatred and outrage the judgment was sure to provoke, explained the judges’ thinking in the simplest of terms. The protection of potential victims of sex crimes is a priority, he said, but once someone can demonstrate that they no longer pose any significant risk of committing a further sexual offence, then there is no good reason to interfere with their right to respect for private and family life. Curtailing such criminal behaviour is the important thing, not imposing draconian – and pointless – penalties on the offenders.
He could have saved his breath. The Sun (21 April) carried the headline: ‘Rapists win new legal rights’, while the Daily Mail (22 April) blared: ‘Paedophiles and rapists win right to wipe their names from register – because it could breach THEIR human rights.’
Clearly, the Human Rights Act remains fair game, not just for the tabloids but also for bigots and loonies generally. It’s seen by many as a ‘villain’s charter’ and even liberals are worried about striking the right balance between it and security against terrorism.
Lawyers and the government have failed to sell the act’s virtues to great swathes of the British public, which is worrying. Or is it really the case that there are no rights and responsibilities that are so central to our way of life that they should be entrenched in our constitution – and not left to the whim of newspaper proprietors and political parties?