TELL NO LIES

I hear rumours that the Government is planning to introduce lie detectors, or polygraphs, into the equation when determining if a sex offender is ready to be released into the community.

OMG! What next?

And exactly how will it work?  There are several thousand sex offenders in prison convicted of a variety of offences from simply viewing underage porn on the Internet, all the way up the scale to rapists and murderers.  Presumably each and every one would be subjected to a lie detector test.  So a whole new layer of testers would have to be grafted onto an already overloaded prison system to administer these tests and report their findings back to whomever is remotely interested.

And more to the point, do they work, and are they foolproof? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO.  If you have a spare three weeks with absolutely nothing else to do, Google ‘polygraph’ and you will get 358,000 search results.  A fair proportion of these question the reliability of lie detectors, and rightly so. Interestingly, there are some websites specialising in how to beat a lie detector test, in much the same way as Damien Lewis in ‘Homeland’.

Sex offenders get special treatment in prison.  They are kept apart from other prisoners, and are subjected to a barrage of courses designed to ‘cure’ them of their perverse predilections. So called experts crawl all over them from the day they first enter the prison system to the day they leave, and where prisoners have received a sentence of 4 years or more, they are at the mercy of the Parole Board before they can be released.  These experts range from social workers, psychologists and pyschiatrists, through to landing officers, the governor and Uncle Tom Cobblers.  They are poked and prodded and pushed and shoved throughout their entire incarceration, so that when they present themselves before the Parole Board, they are squeaky clean in mind, body and soul.

But if these rumours are to be believed, this is not enough, so bring on the polygraph. Even if such degrading treatment does not infringe the offender’s human rights, it is bound to be a stressful experience, and stress is the one indicator above all others that the polygraph is designed to record.

Finally, to ensure that the offender has a fair hearing in front of the Parole Board, if he had failed the polygraph test, as his legal adviser I would require a second opinion from an expert, and possibly a retest, adding further to time and expense and, almost inevitably, a postponement of his hearing.  Booking a Parole Board hearing within a reasonable time frame simply doesn’t happen, and in my experience, the time frame is usually 18 months from postponement to rehearing.

Nobody wants a sex offender to be released into the community to commit further sex offences, but no system devised can provide an iron clad guarantee.  The system presently in place is good enough if followed correctly, and adding a lie detector test will achieve nothing.  Worse still, it may lead to an injustice.

Leave well alone!

THE GADDFLY HAS LANDED

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.