The suggestion by the Minister of Justice, Judith Collins, that public registers be set up to provide open and easy access to the criminal record of serious offenders is one that will be welcomed by many people. Such information is widely and freely available already from the proliferation in the last decade or so of websites including news and information sites, and by organisations like the Sensible Sentencing Trust. But, because of the limited resources of those news and other organisations, the information those sites contain is inevitably piecemeal and patchy. An authoritative and accurate official record would plainly be of much greater benefit.
I agree. Perhaps the threshold for inclusion could be a strike offence?
Criminal convictions are already a matter of public record. Access to the record, however, is not easy. The police, for instance, in most circumstances cannot, because of rules governing the disclosure of information from police computers and concerns about privacy, reveal them. A properly maintained official register would cut through the thicket of difficulties to provide the information more readily.
It may be argued that a register of convictions, by being forever available on the internet, would make it harder for a criminal to live down his or her past and become rehabilitated. The fact is that that is occurring to a certain extent anyway. The register, as Collins suggests it, would be concerned only with serious offences, the kinds of things already covered by news media and suchlike websites. Those websites are very long-lived and can be searched without much trouble by Google. But the media cannot cover everything, even serious crime. An official register would remove the randomness in them in that it would cover all serious offences, not just those the media deem newsworthy, and it should be less subject to error.
If the Government does not set up a register, then those run by groups such as the SST will become more and more authoritative in the absence of anything else.
It may also help deter offending. Contrary to popular opinion, criminals respond to incentives as much as anyone else. Offenders, once they come to know that it will not be so easy to conceal their past crimes, will be less inclined to commit them in the first place.
Fewer crimes and fewer victims would be a good thing.