Antigua’s Parliament has referred the National Sex Offender Register Bill, 2022 to a select committee after an opposition legislator, Trevor Walker, raised several concerns including the possibility of infringing on the rights of the sex offender.
The bill, which was tabled in Parliament on Monday, proposes that members of the public who wish to know if an individual has been convicted of a sex crime and is on the register must apply to the police commissioner to get that information.
Legislators have also raised concern that a convicted sex offender faces a stiff fine if he or she fails to provide information to the police regarding their travel abroad, including the address where they will stay.
Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin, will chair the select committee that includes Opposition Leader, Jamale Pringle, and Walker along with government legislators Dean Jonas, Daryll Matthew and Maria Bird-Browne
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sir Gerald Watt, QC, had also raised some concerns about the legislation.
Benjamin said the legislation will be broad-based and the information collected through the register will be shared nationally and with other territories in the region with which Antigua and Barbuda has security agreements
He added that the possibility exists that other countries outside the Caribbean region may also eventually become privy to the information collected.
“It has been a problem in the islands, in the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) and around the world, that many sexual predators that have been convicted have a tendency of moving country to country, community to community, and it is felt that it is necessary that families, persons, institutions be informed when convicted sexual predators move into their jurisdiction,” Benjamin said.
The government said unlike, for example, in the United States where the public has direct access to sex offender registries and can conduct a search for offenders using only the offender’s name, in Antigua and Barbuda, residents will have to petition the police commissioner for the information. “Any person, who is suspicious of an individual in the community can actually apply to the commissioner of police for information concerning that particular person,” Benjamin said.
“So, if that person is seen to be around little children all the time, shows extreme interest in them, a parent, a concerned individual, an institution, can write to the commissioner…that information of course is kept between the commissioner of police and the person making the request.”
The government said persons subject to inclusion in the National Sex Offender Register are people convicted of sexual assault, indecent assault, sexual indecency, and house break-in, coupled with intent to commit a rape.
The offenses covered include, but are not limited to, the distribution of child pornography, prostitution involving a minor, incest, and sexual intercourse with a minor employee.
Benjamin told legislators the database will contain key information on the sex offender including their name, nationality, address, employment history, fingerprints, photographs, and the names of institutions with which they are affiliated.
There will also be strict requirements by which offenders must abide during “the reporting period” which will be determined by the offender’s sentence.