Government to introduce lie detector tests for sex offenders

17 July 2014

The proposed scheme follows the system that has long been in place in theUnited Stateswhere polygraph tests are mandatory for serious sex offenders. It is understood the proposal will mean that tests for sex offenders who are categorised as 'serious' and have been released in to the community after serving their prison sentence. The proposal follows what is described as a 'successful' pilot scheme.

The pilot was carried out in two Midland probation areas from 2009 to 2011 and found that offenders taking the tests were twice as likely to tell probation staff that they had contacted a victim, entered an exclusion zone or breached the terms of their release licence in some way. However, there are continuing concerns about the reliability of the tests. These concerns, together with the realistic possibility of misinterpretation of results, are the reasons why they are still not used in any court in England and Wales.

It is expected that the compulsory tests will be used to monitor the behaviour of the most serious sex offenders who have all served a sentence of at least 12 months in jail and have been released in to the community. The tests mean that reactions to specific questions will be measured by monitoring heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and levels of perspiration to help determine whether or not the individual concerned is being truthful. The results will be used to decide whether or not they have breached the terms of their licence or, potentially, whether they represent a risk to public safety, with a view to being recalled to prison.

The necessary statutory authority already exists within the Offender Management Act 2007 and merely needs the passing of a Statutory Instrument to enact the relevant sections. MP's will shortly be debating the secondary legislation for this Statutory Instrument with a view to the law being enacted as from 6th January 2014. This will of course be subject to approval by the House of Lords.

The Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said "introducing lie detector tests, alongside the sex offenders register and close monitoring in the community, will give us one of the toughest approaches in the world to managing this group. We recently announced the creation of a national probation service tasked with protecting the public from the most high risk offenders. They will be able to call on this technology to help stop sex offenders from reoffending and leaving more innocent victims in their wake."

In 2011 Hertfordshire police operated a pilot scheme using the tests to help decide whether to charge suspected sex offenders and to guage the risks they posed. The pilot involved 'low level' sex offenders and at least six are reported to have revealed more serious offending and were found to pose a more serious risk to children than had been previously estimated. However, at the time the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) voiced caution about the adoption of such tests stating "polygraph techniques are complex and are by no means a single solution to solving crime, potentially offering in certain circumstances an additional tool to structured interrogation."

Polygraph testing is used in court in 19 states in theUnited States and is subject to the discretion of the trial Judge. However, it is widely used by prosecutors, defence lawyers and law enforcements agencies across theUS. However, despite the fact that the test is deemed as not suitable for use in courts inEnglandandWales, it is of concern that it is deemed sufficiently reliable to carry out a process which could lead to the removal of someone's liberty by recall to prison.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.