Vig­i­lan­tism fears

Judge’s warn­ing on new dis­clo­sure laws

The Gazette (Derwent Valley) - - FRONT PAGE - PA­TRICK BILLINGS

A SUPREME Court judge has slammed “lam­en­ta­ble in­stances of vig­i­lan­tism” tar­get­ing sex of­fend­ers Sonny Day and Ni­co­laas Ock­ert Bester in an ar­ti­cle warn­ing about loom­ing pe­dophile dis­clo­sure laws.

Jus­tice Stephen Est­court said the sus­pected ar­son of a home for sex of­fend­ers at El­len­dale and de­mands pe­dophile Ni­co­laas Bester be booted from UTAS un­der­scored the “chal­lenge for the gate­keep­ers” of the new laws.

In a Tas­ma­nian first the laws, yet to take ef­fect, will al­low the Po­lice Com­mis­sioner to pub­lish a reg­is­tered sex of- fender’s per­sonal de­tails, in­clud­ing pho­to­graphs, if they fail to com­ply with re­port­ing obli­ga­tions.

They also en­able mag­is­trates to make “com­mu­nity pro­tec­tion or­ders” re­strict­ing an of­fender’s move­ments and con­duct, in­clud­ing em­ploy­ment and res­i­dence.

Jus­tice Est­court, writ­ing in the Aus­tralian Law Jour­nal, high­lighted the case of the Free­dom Cen­tre home for ex­of­fend­ers in El­len­dale which housed three pe­dophiles.

One of the men, Sonny Day, was “as­sisted” to re­lo­cate af­ter an out­cry over his pres­ence in the Der­went Val­ley town.

“Notably, this was only af­ter a sus­pected vig­i­lante ar­son at­tack on The Free­dom Cen­tre,” he said. Day later killed him­self. Jus­tice Est­court also weighed into the de­bate sur­round­ing a sex of­fender at UTAS.

A for­mer Col­le­giate teacher, Ni­co­laas Bester was con­victed for hav­ing a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with a teenage stu­dent and also later brag­ging about it on Face­book.

The UTas Women’s Col­lec­tive launched a pe­ti­tion call­ing on the univer­sity to ter­mi­nate Bester’s PhD stud­ies.

“I re­late these two re­cent lam­en­ta­ble in­stances of vig­i­lan­tism in Tas­ma­nia, not merely be­cause they are, from a rule of law per­spec­tive, most re­gret­table, but also be­cause they her­ald the chal­lenge for the gate­keep­ers of the new [laws],” Jus­tice Est­court said.

He said the new dis­clo­sure laws risked am­pli­fy­ing the per­cep­tion of risk of sex of­fences.

“If the dis­clo­sure of in­for­ma­tion per­mit­ted by the Tas­ma­nian amend­ments is not dis­cern­ing and pre­cisely tar­geted … then the dan­ger is that the pur­suit by the com­mu­nity of these new rights may lead to clam­our that re­sults in the so­cial am­pli­fi­ca­tion of the rel­e­vant risks,” he said.

He urged Tas­ma­nia to be wary of the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence where the pro­lif­er­a­tion of far-reach­ing dis­clo­sure laws had led to per­verse out­comes.

In one county a ban on reg­is­tered of­fend­ers liv­ing within 1000 feet of a school bus stop meant the only place they could legally re­side was at the “bot­tom of a lake or in the mid­dle of a for­est”.

Jus­tice Est­court cited stud­ies in­di­cat­ing pe­dophile no­ti­fi­ca­tion schemes were “detri­men­tal to of­fend­ers’ re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and of lit­tle or no ben­e­fit to the com­mu­nity”.

“It is to be hoped that Tas­ma­nia can achieve a just bal­ance,” he said.

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