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Human rights of sex offenders 'breached by blanket ban'

30 November 2010

Banning sex offenders from adopting, fostering or working with children breaches their human rights, an academic at the LSE has argued.

Helen Reece, a barrister and academic specialising in family law, said in a report that the blanket ban imposed by the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 was a breach of article 14 of the ECHR (freedom from discrimination).

Earlier this month the High Court agreed with the Royal College of Nursing at a judicial review hearing that the automatic blacklisting of individuals cautioned or convicted of a criminal offence, however minor, breached their human rights (see, 10 November 2010).

The government has promised to bring in its own scheme, and is expected to publish its proposals early next year.

“Sex offenders shouldn’t all be tarred with the same brush,” Reece said. “People need to be carefully screened for adoption and fostering, but each case should be taken on its merits.

“There shouldn’t be blanket rules. What somebody has done before is not necessarily what he or she will do again. When someone has served a sentence, as far as you can, you should treat them the same as anyone else.”

Reece gave the example of a grandfather banned from continuing to foster his grandchildren because he had a conviction for unlawful sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old girl, an offence committed 36 years ago when he was 29.

“The case of the grandfather is a great example because the couple clearly were the best people to look after those children because the parents were unable to do so and everyone connected with the case was happy with the arrangement.

“It’s wrong what he did, but it doesn’t mean he’s going to be a danger to his grandchildren.”

Reece cited the 2008 House of Lords judgment in Re P, which held that a bar on adoption by unmarried couples was unlawful discrimination under article 14 of the ECHR.

“If we believe that blanket bans are an effective and legitimate means to protect children then we should no more allow cohabiting couples to adopt or foster than convicted sex offenders,” she said.

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