Sex offender orders
When sex offenders are released from prison they are subject to certain requirements that are set out in the Sex Offenders Act 2001. Information on post-release supervision is available in our document 'Monitoring sex offenders in Ireland'. In addition, the courts can impose certain extra restrictions on a sex offender when they are released from prison. The court can only impose these extra restrictions if it is satisfied that the sex offender may pose a serious threat to the public. These restrictions are called sex offender orders.
Who can obtain a sex offender order?
A member of the Gardaí (not below the rank of Chief Superintendent) can apply to the Circuit Court for an order against a sex offender. They can do this if the sex offender's behaviour in the community gives the Gardaí reasonable cause for concern and they feel it is necessary to get an order to protect the public from serious harm. Two criteria must be satisfied before an application for an order can be made. They are:
- The offender must have been convicted of certain sexual offence(s) set out in the Sex Offenders Act 2001.
- When the offender is released from prison, they act in a way that gives the court reasonable grounds to believe that the public must be protected from serious harm. The term serious harm means death or serious personal injury (whether physical or psychological) which would result if the offender were to commit a sexual offence.
What does a sex offender order do?
A sex offender order prohibits a sex offender from doing certain things. The terms of each sex offender order depends on the evidence given to the court by the Chief Superintendent.
If, for example, the Gardaí apply to the court for a sex offender order because they are concerned that a sex offender is loitering near a school playground, then the court can include a condition in the order that prevents the offender from going within a certain distance of school playgrounds. Similarly, the court can ban a sex offender from attending night-clubs if evidence from the Gardaí gave reasonable cause for concern that the public would be in serious danger if the sex offender attended a night-club.
The Gardaí apply for sex offender orders and ensure that offenders comply with these orders.
The offender must comply with a sex offender order. In addition, if a sex offender order is in place, the offender is also subject to the notification requirements set out in Part 2 of the Sex Offenders Act 2001, commonly known as the sex offenders register. These requirements include notifying the Garda Síochána of:
- Your name and home address within 7 days of becoming subject to the requirements. (This normally means within 7 days of being released from prison).
- Any change to your name or home address within 7 days of the change.
- Any plans to live somewhere else in Ireland or to leave Ireland for more than 7 days. If you plan to do this, you must provide the Gardaí with the address you will be staying at.
When does the order take effect?
A sex offender order takes effect when the sex offender is notified of it. They can be notified in the following ways:
- The sex offender, or their representative, is told verbally that an order has been made and a copy of the order is produced
- If the sex offender is in court when the order is made the offender is deemed to have been notified.
How long does a sex offender order last?
A sex offender order remains in force for:
• Five years from the date the offender was notified of the order or
• A longer period the court decides is appropriate
An offender can appeal a sex offender order. If they are successful the court will cancel the order and it will no longer apply to them.
The Gardaí can apply to the Circuit Court for a variation (or change) to the original order. This normally happens if the Gardaí believe that the sex offender’s behaviour has given rise to a further cause for concern and this behaviour hasn’t been addressed by the court or brought to the court’s attention when the original order was issued. This process ensures that there is one order against a sex offender and it can be varied if needed.
Failure to comply with a sex offender order
Under the Criminal Law Act 1997 if you break the terms of a sex offender order you can be arrested. This means that the Gardaí can arrest a sex offender if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person is not complying with the terms of the sex offender order. They can arrest them without an arrest warrant or without having to get permission from the courts.
Anyone found guilty of breaching a sex offender order can be fined or imprisoned for up to five years (or both).
Cancelling or varying a sex offender order
Under the Sex Offenders Act 2001 if you have a sex offender order you can apply to court to change the order, or have it cancelled.
The Court can vary or cancel the order if it is satisfied that:
- The order is no longer required to protect the public from serious harm from the sex offender
- The order is causing an injustice by being in effect
For example, the court might vary an order that prevents a sex offender from approaching school grounds, if the sex offender applies for permission to attend their child’s parent/teacher meeting at their school. In this instance the court may look favourably on varying the order for the day of the meeting.
A court may cancel a sex offender order if a psychologist who counselled the offender gives evidence that the offender no longer poses a danger to society.
Applications to vary or cancel a sex offender order are made to the Circuit Court in the area where the offender lives or to the Circuit Court in the area where the offender’s behaviour led to the sex offender order.
The Circuit Court hears applications to make, vary or cancel a sex offender order. It acts in its civil capacity and the civil standard of proof applies. That is, the court comes to a decision on the application on the balance of probabilities, as distinct to the criminal standard of proof which is beyond reasonable doubt.
Sex offenders who are involved in sex offender order proceedings are entitled to free legal aid once they fit the criteria laid down for free legal aid.
Can I find out if someone has a sex offender order?
No. The Sex Offenders Act 2001 specifically says that any proceedings in relation to a sex offender order will not be heard in public. This means the in camera rule applies and the public are not allowed attend these court proceedings.
Similarly any details held by the Gardaí in relation to sex offender orders are not subject to Freedom of Information legislation. Therefore you cannot apply under the Freedom of Information Act to find out if someone in your area has a sex offender order.
Data protection rights only allow you to request information that is held about yourself. It is not possible to make a data protection request about another person.