A Surpeme Court judge called for the register sparking community debate.
The Law Commission says the proposal must be carefully reviewed with questions such as how the register would be monitored, updated and published having to be determined.
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Leilani Tuala-Warren, Executive Director, Samoa Law Commission
TUALA-WARREN: Samoa has a small population. When issues like this arise, they always matter of resource as well, so we believe that there's no use rushing into something and then we won't have the resources to manage it, to monitor it, update it, so these are issues that we need to look at very carefully.
And in addition to that, it does throw up a lot of other issues, especially in the context of Samoan culture, so we need to have a very careful look at the purpose of such a register and the affect that it will have on Samoan culture. So that's why we're looking at the moment at other countries that have such registers, such as Australia and New Zealand and America just to find out how it works in those countries and then would it be appropriate to have it here in Samoa.
EWART: So at this stage then, there has to be a debate in your view as to whether a sex offenders register is appropriate within Samoan cultural and Samoan society?
TUALA-WARREN; Yes, that's true. So what we are working towards in order to get that discussion going, we're working towards a discussion paper at the moment. Hopefully that discussion paper will give out public information on such registers, the type of sex offenders that should go on such a register, the length of time they may spend on the register. So and they're practical considerations as well and resourcing considerations. And also it will get the public thinking about, there are other existing cultural and legal frameworks which exist at the moment to deter this type of offending. So we need to look at that as well. Is there a way we can strengthen those or do we still need this register.
EWART: So to what degree would you see, what you might call the village justice system being involved here. I mean I know one suggestion that's been put forward is the possibility that the offenders will be banished. I mean and that may already be happening within Samoan society?
TUALA-WARREN: Yes, it's already happening at the moment. But I think rather than depend on that alone, there are other mechanisms that must support.
So at the moment, the village fono is operating, but it will only capture those offenders who reside within a village setting, so you're not capturing everybody in the urban area. So there must be other mechanisms to assist that.
So, for example, we have our sentencing, which is a huge deterrent. At the moment, we need to look at are we really giving the sentences that deter these people and deter the sort of reoffending, so we must look at the sentencing and how about we need to focus in on where is the reoffending occur, is offending occurring or this type of offending. Is it strangers or is it people who are within our families? So how will such a register deter that sort of offending. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that it's happening within families, within villages, within churches, so the offenders are known to members of a particular family. So we have to look at that. Will it deter that sort of offending.
And then importantly, is it appropriate to Samoa. We look at the population. Are these crimes, are they committed by people who are complete strangers? So and they'll be competing interests as well. We need to weigh those up, they're the human rights, the human rights yes, of the offender and especially human rights of his or her family. Because it's not just the offender who will get punished by the village council, it's the whole family. And then on the other side, we need to look at the safety of the community, especially in keeping our children safe. So these are the sort of competing interests that we hope to throw up in this discussion paper, get the community talking. And it's only after we go through that whole process, that we will then make a recommendation to government.
EWART: Underpinning all this, of course, is the rate of offending that is now being recorded. I mean is the rate of offending going up, which is plainly a bad thing or is it more a case of at the rate of reporting is going up, which obviously would be a good thing. We're bringing it out into the open?
TUALA-WARREN: At the moment, yes I think it's a combination of both, it is a combination of both. It is the rate of offending has gone up and it is, and it's been brought out in the public, it's been reported, so people are aware. There's been a lot of awareness programs. Could we strengthen that area and just maintain the awareness program, because more people are reporting. So yes it's a combination of both sadly. The first one, the offending yes it has gone up and it is a good thing that the reporting has increased.
EWART: What sort of time scale would you put on this process, on the length of time you're prepared to debate this issue before making a decision?
TUALA-WARREN: Well, we're hoping to get our discussion paper out very soon. Today it actually goes to our Advisory Board for comments and then we'll be able to determinate that discussion paper for the paper.
We want to keep it open for public submissions for as long as possible. We want to conduct public consultations. I think, I believe it's one of those things that we need to take out to the village setting and have discussions there. So nothing will happen in this half of the year. Hopefully towards the end of the year we will have some recommendations to make to government.