Judge’s warning on new disclosure laws
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.