Sex Offenders (Identity Change)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 29 February 2024.

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Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

5. To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to prevent convicted sex offenders from changing their identity. (S6F-02863)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

This is a matter of public protection, which we take extremely seriously. All registered sex offenders are subject to sex offender notification requirements, and any change of name must, by law, be notified to the police. The management of offenders’ documents includes the recording of any aliases.

Before Christmas, we became aware that the United Kingdom Government was working on legislative change on name changes through its Criminal Justice Bill, and we are keen to align arrangements, where possible. That is why we have made repeated requests at ministerial and official level to see the detail of proposed amendments. I am pleased that we have received those amendments—although only this week—and we have started the serious and careful consideration that is needed to examine how they would work in Scotland and to the tight deadlines of the UK legislation.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

The First Minister will share my concern about news reports at the weekend about an individual with convictions for sexual assault of children who changed his name and was then appointed president of the Robert Burns World Federation, where he had access to children who were participating in Burns competitions. There are many similar cases involving individuals whose convictions predated the creation of the sex offenders register. It is clearly a very serious issue that potentially puts children at risk from predatory adults who are able to conceal their offending history by changing their name.

As the First Minister said, the UK Government proposes to make changes in the law to protect children in such circumstances. He referred to work that is on-going. Can he give us an assurance as to how quickly the Scottish Government can move to close the loophole in the law that exists, which might otherwise be very dangerous?

The First Minister:

I thank Murdo Fraser for raising the issue. I was extremely concerned to read the press reports at the weekend on the case that he referenced. I can give him an absolute assurance that we are working hard to see how we can work with the UK Government to align the position in Scotland with some of the changes that it is proposing.

I understand the public’s concern around the issue, and I will always consider what changes we can make to ensure that there are effective safeguards in place, when it is within our legislative competence to do so.

Murdo Fraser will be more than aware that passports, driving licences and name changes relating to them are reserved to the UK Government, as we have just referenced. There are other ways in which people can change their name—for example, they can do so by marrying, divorcing, making a statutory declaration, using their middle name rather than their first name and so on. We will have to consider all those issues in the round. If there is anything that we can do that is within our gift, we will, and we are prepared to work with the UK Government, as Murdo Fraser asked, with urgency.

Photo of Audrey Nicoll Audrey Nicoll Scottish National Party

Can the First Minister provide an update on other measures to manage sex offenders, including licence and behavioural or prevention orders, and say how those measures link with notification conditions and whether they have been updated?

The First Minister:

That is an important question. Following the weekend’s press reports about the case that Murdo Fraser referenced, there will be a lot of concern, so it is important to provide some reassurance. Last year, new behavioural orders were introduced to reinforce what were already stringent checks on individuals who pose a risk of sexual harm. The police can apply to courts for sexual harm prevention orders for individuals who are convicted of sexual offending, when it is believed that they pose a risk of sexual harm to the public. When such an order is granted, the individual will automatically become subject to the sex offender notification requirements.

The sexual risk order is a civil preventative order that is designed to protect the public from sexual harm. There is no need for a previous conviction.

Breach of either of those orders can result in imprisonment. In addition, licence conditions can be put in place to manage an individual’s behaviour on release from custody. Adherence to those conditions can be monitored by justice social work and electronically monitored, if that is deemed necessary.

As Audrey Nicoll will be aware, we have very stringent multi-agency public protection arrangements in place for offenders. In Scotland, the vast majority of registered sex offenders comply with the notification requirements that are imposed on them—in fact, according to the MAPPA annual report that was published in October last year, 93 per cent do so.

As I said to Murdo Fraser previously, if there is more that we can do, whether within our own competence or by working with the UK Government, to safeguard not only our children but other individuals from predatory behaviour, we will seek to work with whoever we have to in order to ensure that those safeguards are in place.