COMMENT The Malaysian Bar supports the suggestions made by various parties to establish a national register of sex offenders. The register should serve as a national database for the purpose of registering persons who have been convicted of sexual offences, for the protection of vulnerable groups. The register itself should not be penal in nature.
Several matters need to be carefully considered and determined, including the relevant authorities that should administer the database; the persons who should have access to the database; the categories of convicted offenders to be registered; the applicable types of sexual offences; the duration of the registration; and the purposes for which the information in the database can be used.
Among the proposals that warrant mature and serious consideration are that the register be administered on an inter-departmental basis by, for example, the police and the Welfare Department. Access to the register should only be given to those who administer it, but it should also be possible for members of the public to obtain information on specific individuals for a valid or prescribed reason, upon a determination by the administrators.
The database should include, on the whole, all persons convicted of sexual offences against persons belonging to vulnerable groups. The duration of the registration should not be a single fixed period applicable to all convicted offenders, and there should be avenue for review.
It is critical that the scope of the proposed register covers sexual crimes against children and other vulnerable persons. This will enable the screening of those being hired for positions that will place them in contact with persons at risk, at places such as childcare centres, children’s homes, schools, orphanages, and homes for disabled persons or senior citizens.
Examples of registers that are relevant for these purposes are the Violent and Sex Offender Register in the United Kingdom, and the Victorian Register of Sex Offenders in Victoria, Australia.
There must also be safeguards against the abuse of the information contained in the register. It must not be misused to persecute, punish or harass convicted offenders, or become a source for vigilante justice. Family members of these offenders must not be made to suffer prejudicial consequences due to the listing in the register.