The Sexual Offences Act was amended in Parliament last night, creating two registers for convicted sex offenders- one for law enforcement and another that the public can access.
In presenting the amendment for debate, Attorney General Faris Al Rawi said the Government recognised the need to operationalise laws to protect the vulnerable in society.
Al Rawi quoted a completed court matter, which saw the first person being placed on the Sex Offender Register.
He said although a sex offender’s register was created under former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, it was never operationalised because it was ‘badly drafted.’
“We cannot now go back in time for the 20 years that were lost and put people on a register. But what we can do is ensure that law enforcement has a full register, which is not available to the public- and that society has available to it another form of register, which is what this bill proposes to do.”
The AG said the amendments would see the public having access to the Public Sex Offenders Register and the police having access to the National Sex Offenders Register- both of which will be maintained by the Police Commissioner.
Al Rawi said the amendment also includes a clause making it mandatory to register sex offenders who are deported to Trinidad and Tobago.
“In Clause 6 we ask for the extraterritoriality to apply that those sex offenders, falling within the registrable category in the bill, into category 1 as it was amended, that we treat with sex offenders from abroad, why because we know there is a repatriation, a deportation of persons who commit sexual offences in other regions, so, therefore, we wish to make it without a doubt that extraterritoriality applies,” he said.
As for the process for a convicted sex offender’s name to be placed on the registers, Al Rawi explained, “You go to court, you’re on a charge, a court convicts you, you are a sex offender. You don’t become a registered sex offender until you are put into the system after having served time or if the sentence is suspended and you are told by the court that you must register as a sex offender, you go to the police and there you register and at that point you become a registered sex offender.”
He said the National Sex Offenders Register, when coupled with legislation for PH taxis which is yet to brought to Parliament, will allow police to scan a QR code to determine whether a PH taxi driver is a sex offender.
Al Rawi said the legislation also makes allowances for the right of an appeal of the decision for a convicted sex offender to be placed on the registers.
The legislation also includes a clause to deal with fake news, the AG said.
“We put the offence for basically fake news-ing, my friends on the opposite will know this well, where fake news becomes news, any story that you tell becomes news. This country is at a dangerous point, where it is not a matter of what is the truth, it appears to be what is the version of the truth you offer.”
He said this provision also takes into account situations where a victim approaches the court to have the offender’s name kept out of the register.
“The parent law already has the provisions that you cannot go onto the website if you are a child, or if we are dealing with cases of incest,” he said.
The amendment also makes provisions to criminalise misuse of information placed on the registers and increases fines for breaches of the legislation.
“We are moving from $50,000 to $250,000 for breach of regulations, deleting six months and substituting five years- because we amended section 63 of the Interpretation Act, bringing this in line with the amendments we made last year.”
The AG again signalled his intention to bring legislation to criminalise voyeurism, revenge porn and make adjustments to the consideration of bail for sexual offenders.
In her contribution to the debate, Opposition MP Anita Haynes noted that many of the contributions from both sides of the House were along a similar vein.
Haynes said although the country will benefit from the two sex offenders registries, solutions to the issue of sexual assault are not grounded in legislation.
“I want to urge members in discussing members to gender-based violence, sexual offences, please do not minimise it by saying if we had more stringent laws, we would not have this problem, that is simply not true, do not promise that to a population
We could pass all the laws here today and we could still have all these problems tomorrow, so let us be serious when talking about these issues because they are real and they have real potential for disrupting our society,” she said.
Haynes said education on issues of conflict resolution and gender issues from a young age is the key to creating a cultural shift in society.
“Let us stop putting our resources at the end of the problem and start targeted approaches at the beginning and we will see again the kind of results we hope to see,” she said.