Breaking news! Paul Gadd, aka Gary Glitter, is back in the UK, albeit under protest, and as I write, will be welcomed with open arms by the fragrant Jacqui Smith, our ineffectual Home Secretary, clutching a Sex Offenders Protection Order [SOPO] in her hot little hand.

I have the deepest reservations about the efficacy of these protection orders, on two grounds. They don’t work when they should, and I question the right of any government to subject offenders to draconian restrictions which, on the face of it, breach their Convention rights under Articles 3 and 8, the right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to private life.

I remind myself that Mr. Gadd spent three years in the Ho Chi Minh correctional facility in Ho Chi Minh City, having been convicted by the Ho Chi Minh Supreme Court of sexually abusing under age girls from the Ho Chi Minh School of Spiritual Enlightenment. Is this a personality cult, or what!?! Whatever happened to good old Hanoi? Anyway, Paul’s three years in choky amounts to a six year sentence here in the UK, and time and enough to repent of his transgressions.

All this nonsense started with the Sex Offenders Act 1997, amended by the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, and further amended by the Sexual Offences Act 2003, but after all the huff and puff, nobody stopped to think it through. The need for this scattergun legislative overload was apparently in response to “public concern” over predatory paedophiles roaming our streets, ready to jump out on unsuspecting children. Until then, most “right minded members of society” thought that a peedofile [sic] was something to do with horny feet.

On latest estimates, there are now 30,000 on the Register, and at least half of them shouldn’t be there. The consequences of registration, as Paul Gadd is about to find out, are out of all proportion to the perceived risk that registrants are supposed to pose. It involves regular and constant monitoring of every movement, with visits from the police and the supervising officer at all hours of the day and night. Restrictions on contact with minors is understandable, but extending the definition of minors to young persons up to the age of 18 jars uneasily with the lowering of the age of consent to 16. And finally, there are restrictions on overseas travel.

If a determined predatory paedophile chooses not to conform, there is little the authorities can do about it. All he has to do is up sticks and move, and then ‘decline’ to register his new address. He may be picked up if he’s unlucky, but the chances are slim. He can change his name, his appearance [note to Paul Gadd, dump that ridiculous Ho Chi Minh goatee beard] and he’s foot loose and fancy free to commit further crimes if he’s so inclined, or better still, get on with the rest of his life.

There may be an argument for registering our most dangerous offenders, but this “come one, come all” approach isn’t working, and worst of all, it’s simply unfair.

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David is an English barrister, writer, public performer and keynote speaker. His full profile can be found on his website.

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