How the Isle of Man works to keep children and adults safe from sex offenders
The main piece of legislation which covers sexual offences is the Sexual Offences Act 1992. This law is now out of date and does not reflect changes in technology or offending behaviour since that time. The Government is currently in the final stages of introducing new, updated legislation. The Sexual Offences and Obscene Publications Act 2020 has received Royal Assent and should be implemented by summer 2021.
This new legislation introduces new offences to protect children from harm. These include abuse by someone who is in a position of trust, a person who causes or facilitates (through 'grooming' etc.,) sexual abuse or exploitation and image based sexual abuse of children. Offences relating to sexual abuse of children in a family context have also been expanded and updated. There has also been an increase in sentencing powers for a number of offences. A useful comparison between the old law and the new law can be found on Tynwald's website.
If you have concerns about a child or believe that an individual poses a risk to a child or an adult, please contact Police HQ on +44 1624 631212 or 999 in an emergency.
Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme [‘Sarah’s Law’] in the UK
The Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme within England and Wales, more usually known as ‘Sarah’s Law’ is a mechanism which allows an individual to formally ask their local police force if someone, who has access to their child, has a record of committing child sexual offences. The scheme is not formalised in legislation, but is set out in guidance. It is a reactive response to a specific request for disclosure and there are strict measures on how information is shared and to whom the disclosure is made. Applications are subject to rigorous review before any disclosure is made.
The scheme is not a public register. This means that people cannot find out whether there are offenders living in their area. It is a very particular way of asking for information which will be provided, after review by the Police, on a need to know basis. The threshold for receiving information based on a request under Sarah’s law in the UK is such that it is not automatically provided and should information be provided then it is disclosed with a strict confidentiality clause. A breach of this confidentiality agreement could result in prosecution under Data Protection legislation.
Any disclosure made under Sarah’s Law will only be in respect of individuals who have been convicted of an offence against a child. The vast majority of offences against children are perpetrated by a person that a child knows. Offences often take place in the home, within the extended family or within the social circle of a family and are often less likely to be reported. Hence, there will not be a conviction recorded against an individual.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has previously raised a serious concern that Sarah’s Law schemes can foster a false sense of security for the very reasons already highlighted. That is, the majority of sexual abuse against children is carried out by someone the child already knows and is less likely to be reported. Therefore, a member of public who is eligible to make an application for disclosure under Sarah’s Law may be reassured about an individual after checks have been made, but as they have no previous convictions, the process will have done nothing to manage risk and prevent harm.
Sarah’s law and its application to the Island has been a topic which the Department has extensively reviewed in the period since its inception in the UK. In 2011, a working group was established to consider the introduction of such a scheme, with the main focus being on child protection and safeguarding. It was agreed at that time that such a scheme would not be of benefit within the context of the island community. That does not mean though that children are not protected. Rather, the Island has a bespoke and proactive approach to protecting children from harm. This is described below.
The Island Approach
The island has a risk based, community protection approach to offender management. This includes addressing risks from those who are believed to pose a risk to children. This approach is considered much more proactive and is designed to manage risk posed by an individual. The decision whether to disclose or not, in the UK under Sarah’s Law is a decision for the police alone. In the Isle of Man, the approach to risk management and disclosure is based on multi-agency working and collaboration to ensure that all known risks are considered when dealing with an individual. All convicted Sex Offenders are made subject to the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements.
The Constabulary’s Multi-Agency Public Protection Unit proactively works to reduce the risk of harm from offenders and those known to pose a risk to children. Sex offenders are monitored and thoroughly risk-assessed when they reside in the community after conviction or sentence, and this is done in conjunction with the Prison and Probation Service.
Often, an individual will have conditions of behaviour attached to a court order (The Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO)) to manage any risk they pose. The police have a dedicated officer whose role is to manage sexual and violent offenders.
The Prison and Probation Service manage the custodial element of an offender’s sentence and any subsequent licence period or community sentence are managed by the Probation Team within the community. This management can include directing where an offender can live, restrictions on who and where they can visit and restrictions on specific locations such as schools, play grounds, swimming pools etc.
It is normally a requirement that a Probation Officer must be permitted access to an offender’s home for both planned and unannounced visits. In cases where offenders are known to pose particular risks to vulnerable groups in the community, licence conditions are often imposed to reflect a joint approach to managing an individual between the Police and the Probation service.
Offenders on licence can be, and frequently are, recalled to custody following a revocation of their licence due to breaching these conditions.
Where there is a specific risk to a child or vulnerable person, the Police, Probation officers, and often other key partners, will work together to jointly manage the risk. This may include providing appropriate information to people who may be exposed to risk, or be responsible for a person who may exposed to risk, where relevant and with suitable safeguards in place.
The size of our island and population make pro-active monitoring of this kind an effective, bespoke response. Local intelligence, close ties in our communities, the scope for swift decision making and ease of communication between and within the agencies involved, means we already have a targeted response to managing risk which is proven to work. These good working practices also mean that we are able to provide a 24/7 response to an emerging critical risk situation.
Our approach would simply not be possible across a much larger area – it is the right thing for the Isle of Man. We believe this pro-active approach is more valuable than a reactive response that is available in other jurisdictions.
What are Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements [MAPPA]?
Where an individual who is assessed as violent or dangerous, whether convicted or not, and is living or going to live within our community, joint risk management takes place. This can include a Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) meeting. This meeting must be chaired by Police or Prison and Probation, who prior to any such meeting must identify other statutory and on occasions, third sector parties, who have a role to play in managing risk and supporting victims. The MAPPA process allows for categorisation of risk levels which Police, Prison and Probation are required to jointly assess and subsequently manage. The Chair of such meetings must hold a position of seniority in their respective organisations and hold the meetings within a nationally recognised framework. These meetings focus on safeguarding victims, safeguarding the community and managing the individual.
If you have concerns about a child or believe that an individual poses a risk to a child or an adult, please contact Police HQ on 631212 or 999 in an emergency.