Sex Offenders & Bank Accounts – case comment on Prothero

Introduction and Issue

Christopher Prothero lost his battle at the High Court relating to the requirements of the Sex Offenders Register on 18th September 2013. Mr Prothero was released from prison in February 2012 after having served a 4½ sentence for sex offences. One of the requirements (that was added in 2012) is a requirement to disclose to the police details of any bank account and credit cards that the person holds.

Mr Prothero was unhappy with this and challenged this requirement as being unlawful under Art 8 European Convention on Human Rights (the right to a private life). His stated objection was the risk that his personal financial details would be unlawfully passed on. The application was resisted by the Government on the basis that if a sex offender went on the run, then knowing their bank account details was the best way of tracking them down.

The Court’s Ruling

It will come as no surprise that the Court dismissed the claim. In a short judgment, the Judges rehearsed the arguments and concluded that although there was (as everybody accepted) an interference with the individual’s private life, there was “little doubt but that the requirements are very valuable in achieving the legitimate aims and are both necessary and proportionate for the achievement of those aims“. For this reason, the application was dismissed.

Comment Although I am not surprised by the outcome, it seems to me that there is quite a lot of doubt that the requirements are ‘necessary and proportionate’ in achieving the aim of protecting the public.

There is nothing wrong with a judgment being short – it is to be welcomed when the Court sets out the issues and their conclusions concisely, as long as it covers everything. To my mind, it would have been better had there been more discussion as to whether a blanket requirement is compatible.

The concern I have is that there is no individual tailoring of the requirements of the register – no Judge looks at the individual and considers whether notifying bank details will offer any protection to the public.

This all relates to a wider concern I have, and that is whether the Register is a good thing or not. There is no evidence from the UK that it works to prevent crime and, (as mentioned in our post on the Register) some evidence to suggest that it is, in fact, counter-productive.

Before saying whether it is necessary and proportionate, I would want to know the following (as a minimum) – (1) how many people are subject to the register, (2) how many people go ‘missing’ from it, (3) how many of those have committed offences after, and (4) how many of these were tracked by their bank account details. I have strong doubts that the numbers would support the Government’s case on this point.

Further, if someone really does want to go to ground, then will this really help the police? The offender knows that they have disclosed these details and can be tracked via it, so will they just go and take out cash and disappear off? Or, it they are intending to hide from the police, will they just declare some accounts and leave one hidden (which they then use)? This may provide a false sense of security rather than any real protection.

These arguments may or may not be persuasive. But, it’s for the Government to show that the measures are proportionate and, on the face of the judgment, they didn’t produce enough evidence to persuade me.

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4 thoughts on “Sex Offenders & Bank Accounts – case comment on Prothero

  1. duncanheenand

    It could be that the real reason for wanting Bank and credit card details isn’t to trace offenders, but to quietly keep tabs on what they are up to. The Police already have some powers to access bank information, and I suspect that they will get more rather than less in the future. There is some very sophisticated software already available which can analyse purchases, and the results from Operation Ore, and the like will only encourage more.
    So Big Brother is watching us, but I (mostly) subscribe to the view that the innocent have nothing to fear. However that assumes that the police are all good, so er……

    Reply
  2. Andrew

    Wait for another case involving a joint account – with the wife or the business partner as the claimant. That might well go the other way.

    And I notice with interest that if the offender – or that should be ex-offender – incorporates a company its account will not be covered. Only unincorporated associations are. Which is as it should be; a company is another person in law and is not the offender. But nowadays one person can form a company – with unlimited liability if he chooses – which drives a coach and horses through the whole scheme, doesn’t it?

    Reply
  3. Andrew

    And Duncan: unless you need to buy online, you can always use good old cash, c-a-s-h cash, which doesn’t leave traces!

    Reply
  4. Tracey McMahon (@MAFTC)

    Oooh Andrew – you just had to mention that label “ex-offender” That’s enough to tip me over the edge… The latest fashion to describe oneself who’s been under the long arm of the law. Not only that, there are some who are proud to call themselves exactly that. For pity’s sake.

    Bank accounts and that of those with sex offences. Hum – well like anything else there will be something else that will become a criminal offence in that a way around it, as you’ve rightly pointed out will soon be found. And what of those who are also named on the account who are completely innocent of any crime? A highly important aspect of such a situation that likely has not been addressed.

    Reply

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