Overview of the Sex Offender Register.
For almost all sexual offences, a person who is convicted or cautioned is automatically subject to ‘Notification Requirements’, commonly known as the Sex Offenders Register. This means that they have to register personal details at a designated local police station. These details are then added to a database called the Violent and Sex Offenders Register (ViSOR). Although Notification Requirements (‘Registration’) begins at the point of conviction, the length of time that someone is subject to ‘The Register’ is determined by the type and length of sentence that is given, usually at a later sentencing hearing. The periods are: Caution or Conditional Caution - 2 years Community Orders and Fines - 5 years Suspended sentence or immediate Imprisonment of 6 months or less - 7 years Imprisonment between 6 months and up to 30 months (including suspended sentences up to 24 months) - 10 years Imprisonment of 30 months or more - Lifelong
For people under 18 years, these periods are halved. The detailed Home Office guidance (amended in March 2023) can be viewed here.
What does it all mean in reality?
A more detailed explanation and discussion about how the register is managed in practice is included in the Safer Lives Programme. But below, we summarise the main two parts to being ‘on the register’.
Firstly, within three days of conviction or receiving a caution, the person must register their DoB, addresses, national insurance number, passport details and banking details to a local police station. The Police will ask for the details of others living at the address, including children (under 18), and they may also ask about vehicle details. Biometrics such as fingerprints may also be taken. The person is then responsible for renewing these details every twelve months, or within three days of any details changing. They must also notify of any new address at which they reside for any seven nights in any twelve-month period, and also any time they are at the same address as any other child for twelve hours or more, and details of any planned foreign travel. Unless prohibited in a Sexual Harm Prevention Order, the person is entitled to travel abroad, although the Police may notify authorities in the foreign country.
It is important to understand that the ViSOR database is very private and securely held. The public have no routine access to it. They can only have access to selective information through the strict provisions of Sarah’s Law, usually meaning that someone can check to see if a person becoming newly involved with their family is a registered sex offender. But in this event, the Police would normally be expected to disclose such information to the new family anyway and make the relevant safeguarding referrals.
The second part of being on the sex offender register is that the person must receive home visits from the Police’s Public Protection Unit (PPU). In some areas this unit may be called MOSOVO, SOMU, JIGSAW or OMU. They may occasionally decide to visit places of work if they believe they contain a relevant risk. The Police will usually be in plain clothes and will use un-marked police cars. They may use the first visits to complete a risk assessment to determine how regularly they need to revisit. If the person remains stable and compliant the visits will be reduced. The purpose of the visits is to check that the person is using the registered address, to record and check on any children or vulnerable adults who also reside at or visit the address, and that the address is in general good repair and is suitable. The Police visitors will also make professional judgements about whether any immediate neighbours need to be informed, but in our experience this is unlikely unless there have been contact sexual offences. Where a person is moving to a new address it would be normal practice for the Police to approve the address beforehand. The Police’s Public Protection Unit will also liaise with the Probation Service if they are involved with the person.
Remember, as former Probation Officers, the Safer Lives team have extensive experience of working with people on the Register and of the joint working arrangements between the Probation Service and Public Protections Units. We can help you to understand how it could impact on you.
Look out for the upcoming blog on Sexual Harm Prevention Orders which usually run alongside sex offender registration.
Safer Lives are a team of experienced former probation officers who specialise in sexual offences. We can help you, whether you are in the early stages of an investigation, or have already been given court dates.
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