By Ariadne Massa
Sex offenders and anybody who poses a serious threat to children will face life listed on a register under a new law that is expected to come into force by the end of the year.
The Protection of Minors Registration Act will empower the court to use its discretion over who should be placed on this register depending on the gravity of the case, Justice Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici told The Sunday Times.
"The message behind this law is maximum protection for children. We want to ensure those entrusted with children's well-being are not a threat," he said.
The long-awaited register will not be implemented retroactively, which means the names of paedophiles convicted before its introduction will not be listed.
Although this means the register will not be a definitive source, Dr Mifsud Bonnici said it impossible to apply this law retroactively to those who would have already been convicted as they would have to be tried again for the same crime.
The Bill will be published for debate by the beginning of September, and if the process proceeds smoothly will be enacted by the end of the year.
The objective of this law is to protect minors (under 16s) from serious crime - not just offences of a sexual nature - which explains why the list is no longer called a sex offenders' register.
For example, anybody caught selling drugs to children or trafficking in the vicinity of a school or other place frequented by minors risks having their name placed on the register for life.
- This is what the US needs. If a registry is okay for sex offenders, then it's okay for all other criminals.
Would the register also list, for example, a 17-year-old caught selling ecstasy to his 15-year-old friend?
"It is for the court to determine the gravity of the crime. Through this law we want to provide greater protection to children. We'll see how it works and then take stock of the situation. We have no intention of creating injustices, or letting people get away either," Dr Mifsud Bonnici said.
The Bill also states that if a court deems a person's crime to be a potential danger to children it can place their name on the register even if the crimes they are convicted of are not listed in the law.
- And this could include anything, like spanking your child, or leaving your child in a hot car while you run into the store.
The register with the offenders' names will remain in court and will not be readily available for the public to see.
"We want to give this law teeth, but we don't want this to become a witch-hunt. We need to ensure this register works in a small community like Malta," Dr Mifsud Bonnici said.
Instead, the register will be accessible to any institution, establishment or organisation which provides a service or activity involving the education, care, custody, welfare or upbringing of minors.
Checking the register before employing somebody in the field is not based on a carer's suspicion. Instead, relevant entities, be it schools or scouts, are legally obliged to request access to the register.
If they do not check a person's name against the register, the individual responsible for the relevant entity may be charged with a crime.
The Bill proposes that those on the list will be obliged to inform the Court Registrar regularly about their current address, any change in their place of residence, as well as any planned trips outside the country.
This is intended to provide information to other countries about the movement of offenders through EU-wide crime information sharing networks being created.
The idea to have a paedophile register surfaced in mid-2006 following a controversy involving the Malta Football Association, which retained a 79-year-old convicted paedophile as a groundsman at the Pace Grasso ground in Paola that also doubles as a playing field for a nearby school.
A popular call for the register resurfaced in 2008, along with tougher penalties for sex offenders, following the case of a 37-year-old religion teacher who admitted in court to sending SMS messages with sexual connotations to former students aged between 13 and 14.
The publication of his name was banned by the court but an infuriated chain e-mail message was sent, revealing his identity.
At a glance:
- An offender's name will remain on the register for life.
- The register will be under the court's responsibility, and it is the court that will decide whose crime is grave enough to be listed.
- It will also be the court that accedes or denies requests to access the register. It will not be directly accessible to the public.
- The register will be accessible to any institution, establishment or organisation that provides a service or activity involving the education, care, custody, welfare or upbringing of minors.
- These entities will be legally bound to access the register before employing a person who will come into contact with minors (under 16s), or be charged with a crime.
- The Protection of Minors Registration Act is expected to be enacted by the end of the year.