Legislation giving courts in the Isle of Man the power to hand out longer maximum prison terms for people convicted of the most serious sexual offences is being drawn up by the Department of Home Affairs.
Home Affairs Minister Juan Watterson gave an update on the progress of a Sexual Offences Bill when he appeared before the Social Affairs Policy Review Committee last week.
He said it was hoped that the department would be in a position to go out to consultation on the Bill ‘this session or next’.
Douglas West MHK Chris Thomas submitted a list of questions to Mr Watterson and DHA chief executive Mark Kelly on behalf of one of his constituents.
They included whether lower maximum sentences for sexual offences, compared with the UK, encouraged offenders to come to the island.
Mr Watterson, denied this, and said the monitoring of registered sex offenders was similar in the island.
‘The Constabulary take monitoring very seriously and may be more effectively and able to do that in the UK. They are able to come under greater scrutiny.’
He was also asked whether the department had considered the introduction of justified defence statements, to save many victims and witnesses having to appear in court.
The Minister said there had been ‘discussions’ between the department and the Isle of Man Law Society.
And at the present stage, the department was ‘working through concerns’ of the Law Society.
Mr Watterson said: ‘Whether that will go forward or not is yet to be determined. It’s on our radar.’
He said it was one of the ‘fundamental objectives’ of the department to reduce the ‘delay between offence and judgement’.
But he added that delays happen for a reason – and it was important to ensure safeguards in the process were not removed.
Mr Watterson said the department was also looking at whether it would be possible for children and vulnerable witnesses to be able to pre-record their evidence.
It is currently being trialled in Liverpool, Leeds and Kingston-upon-Thames.
The idea is to protect young and vulnerable witnesses from the trauma of appearing in court by giving their evidence and being cross-examined before the trial starts.
Meanwhile, the Minister confirmed the DHA had a site in mind for a replacement bail hostel to David Gray House, which is operated by the Salvation Army.
He described David Gray House, in Drury Terrace, Douglas, as not being very disabled-friendly. He said money for the project was available in the Treasury’s Pink Book, and the timescale was two to three years.
At last month’s Tynwald sitting, members approved the Road Traffic Regulation order, giving police the power to issue fixed penalty notices for minor traffic offences.
Speaker of the House of Keys Steve Rodan, who chaired the meeting in Douglas East MHK Brenda Cannell’s absence, said former Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and a number of English magistrates had raised their concerns about the regular use of fixed penalty notices undermining the authority of the courts.
But Mr Watterson said the system was different in England, with police being able to hand out fixed penalty notices for a wider range of offences including affray.