Community safety requires competent law-making by parliament, robust law enforcement by government and wise decision-making from the judiciary. If one or more of those three arms falter then our community is unnecessarily endangered.
Last month’s decision in the Supreme Court of Western Australia is a standout example of this type of governance failure and unsurprisingly there have been calls for WA Attorney- General John Quigley to intervene in Edward Latimer’s release from prison. When any high-profile sex offender convicted of serious offences reaches the end of their sentence, a dilemma surfaces for a justice system required to make a choice between our community’s right to safety and the right of an offender to liberty following the completion of their sentence.
Latimer is a dangerous sex offender with a long and disturbing record. A Supreme Court Judge’s decision to authorise Latimer’s release defies community expectations on public safety. The community expects that patterns and precursors of offending behaviour as well as risk and likelihood of recidivism all come to bear on a decision of this nature. It is always a concern whenever a dangerous sex offender is released from prison. It becomes deeply concerning when a court has deemed that person a ‘serious danger to the community’. This concern is compounded in this case courtesy of a bizarre supervision order which authorises this dangerous offender to have approved access to sex workers.
The ten-year supervision order has fifty-one other conditions including a curfew, no alcohol or pornography. These conditions are presumably in place to mitigate risk, so it beggars belief that, as part of the release conditions, a judge has agreed for Latimer to access prostitution as a means to reduce risk to the community. The lack of wisdom in this decision ought to be self-evident; however, as a minimum it is inconsistent with a WA law prohibiting people living off the earnings of prostitution. Who is it that the judge proposes will provide this urge-mitigation therapy? Absent an insane volunteer, it can only be a person breaching WA law. It is not the role of our judiciary to undermine the rule of law. In any event, if it was open to the judge to prohibit Latimer from accessing pornography then it was certainly open to prohibit access to sex workers. This particularly ought to have been the case given this offender is said to have a ‘rudimentary understanding of the concept of consent’.
State-sanctioned abuse of women is not a solution to protecting the rest of our community. What it does create is a collective shaking of heads and raises the question as to who will approve these ‘visits’. The mind boggles when one pauses to contemplate what possible criteria will be used to determine whether approval is granted. A 2018 study of sexual offenders and their offence patterns from the University of Nottingham found that: ‘sexual recidivists commit the same category of offence from one offence to the next. However, escalation was also common, a finding that warrants further exploration.’
This is not sex offender panic. Rather this is a deeply held concern that a person deemed a ‘serious danger to the community’ can be released from prison. A violent recidivist offender poses a high and very real threat of re-offending. Granting a sexual predator, who has repeatedly violated the rights of others, unwise clemency means putting others at risk. Judging by the quantum and nature of Latimer’s offences, combined with his history of denial and refusal to participate in treatment programs, this is not a risk Western Australians should be asked to take. Yet for the time being our A-G is refusing to intervene, saying he does not see anything appealable and that he will not ‘quibble’ with the judge’s decision.
Only the month before last the Attorney-General introduced the High-Risk Offenders Bill 2019 into parliament announcing, ‘this bill delivers on the McGowan government’s election commitment to deal with those offenders for which the community expects the strongest response from the government and maintains our legacy to protect the WA community, especially the most vulnerable, from sexual and violent offenders.’
Interestingly, our existing law already affords the Attorney-General a mechanism to do just that. In this case, an extendable 21-day appeal window and the statutory power to intervene. The Attorney-General is correct when he says the community expects the strongest response from government, yet his words and actions to date are incongruent.
History seems to have a way of repeating itself. On 28 June, 2016 there was a robust debate in the Legislative Assembly over the then Liberal government’s amendments to the Dangerous Sexual Offenders Act 2006. A quick review of parliamentary Hansard informs us that the debate centred around the breach of supervision orders by another dangerous sex offender and Mr Quigley was forthright in his demands saying, ‘The government has simply got to do something here. Stop sitting on your hands, Mr Attorney-General, and instigate an application in the Supreme Court. Exercise your authority, exercise your power; do something in the Supreme Court.’
Hansard also records that Mr Quigley’s predecessor, then Labor Attorney- General Jim McGinty said in 2006, ‘Two psychiatric reports tendered to the court found that Latimer presented a high risk of committing serious sexual offences if not subject to a continuing detention order. To quote from one psychiatric report. “The essence of his level of risk lies in his extreme denial and therefore unaddressed offending behaviour… No therapeutic endeavours to date have been of benefit”. The community deserves to be protected against people like Latimer.’
This decision is a kick in the guts for victims of sexual abuse. It sends all the wrong messages. The Attorney-General should intervene. The 21-day appeal window, that he has missed, is able to be extended by the Court of Appeal. This would be consistent with robust law enforcement. Appeals are won by courageous appellants. This is no time for timidity. If a robust appeal fails then at least our existing system will have been properly tested and parliament will then know with certainty that our law is inadequate. If those circumstances arise then the Government should work with the Opposition to develop a bi-partisan solution. That is the least we can do to fulfil our duty to the community, as lawmakers, to provide safety.
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