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Judges weaken rules on paedophiles
Paedophiles have won unsupervised access to their own children because it would breach their human rights to keep them apart, judges have ruled.
Bryan Hall, now aged 54, was caught when he took a bin bag full of child pornography magazines, photographs and CDs to his local tip in 2009. Police traced him from a housing benefit letter left in the same bag Photo: STUART BOLTON
By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent
11:00PM BST 20 Aug 2011
The Court of Appeal has torn up powers which previously allowed judges to ban convicted paedophiles from unfettered access to their families.
They ruled that the "right to a family life" must be taken into account before the "sexual offences prevention orders", known as SOPOs, are issued.
The ruling, issued after a legal challenge by a group of men convicted of using the internet to view child pornography, significantly weakens the ability of the criminal courts to place restrictions on paedophiles.
It means judges cannot impose blanket bans on men and women convicted of child sex offences spending time with their own children because they breach the right to a "family life".
The development comes amid a review by ministers of the way the Human Rights Act has had a "chilling effect" on British law.
The judges also tore up other restrictions on what convicted child sex offenders can do under the SOPO system.
The orders were brought in by the last Government in an attempt to protect children from abuse.
The judges said total bans on surfing the internet and coming into contact with teenagers aged between 16 and 18 cannot be imposed after a paedophile has been found guilty.
Last night the ruling was described as "very worrying" by MPs.
The ruling was made after a group of sex offenders challenged their SOPOs.
* Wayne Clarke, 34, who was convicted of child pornography offences in 2006, and after serving a jail term breached his bail conditions and was listed as a wanted man.
He was traced to North Wales where he was found to have a stash of electronic equipment containing hundreds of photographs and videos of young girls engaged in sexual acts, including two still images assessed to be of the most serious "level 5" category, which depict sadism or bestiality. He had been communicating with a mother of a four-year-old girl and had sent the adult a child pornography image.
* Bryan Hall, now aged 54, was caught when he took a bin bag full of child pornography magazines, photographs and CDs to his local tip in 2009. Police traced him from a housing benefit letter left in the same bag.
Hall, a mobile disco operator, of Beaconsfield Street, Darlington, was found to have more than 6,000 child abuse images, mainly of girls aged between five and 12, on his home computer.
* Steven Smith, now 36, who admitted having child pornography and had a previous conviction for raping a boy aged under 16.
Philip Davies MP said: "This is very worrying. What concerns me is that the criminal justice system always seems to put the rights of the criminal ahead of the rights of the law-abiding public and the victim.
"It risks creating a terrible victim of crime, which could be completely avoidable. That to me is unforgivable."
The cases were considered together by a panel of three senior judges, headed by Lord Justice Hughes, because of their significance.
The Court of Appeal ruled that the terms of Clarke's SOPO were "wider than necessary", particularly that a blanket ban on Clarke using the internet was "wrong".
Conditions of the SOPO which prevented any social contact with boys was also "unnecessary and unrealistic" because it would prevent Clarke from having "ordinary family contact with his brother and nephews", the judges added.
The judges said in their ruling: "Care must be taken in considering whether prohibitions on contact with children are really necessary.
"It is not legitimate to impose multiple prohibitions on a defendant just in case he commits a different kind of offence."
Restricting a paedophile's access to his or her own children would be a breach of human rights, said the appeal judges.
"The defendant may have children of his own, or within his extended family," the ruling went on.
"If his offences are within the family, or there is a risk that offences of that kind may be committed, then those children may need protection.
"But if they are not, and there is no sign of a risk that he may abuse his own family, it is both unnecessary and an infringement of the children's entitlement to family life to impose restrictions which extend to them."
In another controversial move, the Court of Appeal also said judges will no longer be able to impose total bans on paedophiles accessing the internet.
"A blanket prohibition on computer use or internet access is impermissible," the appeal judges concluded.
"It is disproportionate because it restricts the defendant in the use of what is nowadays an essential part of everyday living for a large proportion of the public."
In previous periods, if a paedophile had kept printed images of children being forced to have sex "it would have not have occurred to anyone to ban him from possession all printed material", the judges said.
They added: "The internet is a modern equivalent."
Clarke's SOPO was modified to prevent him accessing the web unless his internet "history" was stored intact, and that he agreed to allow police to inspect any electronics used to access the internet.
His wife, a Thai national, has two children - including an eight-year-old daughter - and the couple are attempting to gain visas for the youngsters to live in Britain.
Hall's original SOPO, imposed by Teesside Crown Court, banned him from "living in the same household as any person under the age of 18".
But his lawyers successfully argued this was too broad and the new SOPO now bans him from living with girls under 18 without the "express approval of social services".
Smith's SOPO was quashed as he is serving an indefinite sentence.
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