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Sex Offenders Will Be Blocked From Changing Their Name With New Law

Sex offenders will be prevented from legally changing their names on documents such as passports and driving licences due to an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill. (Alamy)

4 min read

A new restriction on sex offenders legally changing their names is set to become law after years of campaigning by survivors groups, with the Labour MP who proposed it crediting the benefits of cross-party cooperation.

An amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill put forward by Labour MP Sarah Champion to prevent sexual offenders changing their name has been officially accepted by the government. 

The new clause will give the police powers to stop registered sex offenders from changing their names on documents such as passports and driving licences. Sex offenders will therefore have to seek police approval to change their names, which will only be granted under "several exemptions" such as marriage or religious conversion. Police will be able to "exercise their discretion to override them where they consider that the imperative to protect the public from sexual harm requires it" and people who breach this law could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

The Criminal Justice Bill was introduced in last year's King's Speech, proposing a raft of measures including compelling defendants to attend their sentencing hearing, putting a duty on organisations to report child sexual abuse concerns, criminalising the sharing of intimate images, expanding drug testing on arrest, and giving the police greater powers and data access to tackle crime. 

Campaigners have been pushing for the law change to prevent sex offenders effectively "disappearing" or reoffending after changing their identities. 

Champion told PoliticsHome she was "amazed" that the government had decided to go through with it in this Parliament, but praised the ministers who had helped to get it though, including Prisons Minister Edward Agar and Victims Minister Laura Farris. Home Secretary James Cleverly previously committed to bringing this change into law in December last year. Mark Fletcher, the Conservative MP for Bolsover, has also campaigned on the issue and previously brought forward a Private Member's Bill.

Champion worked with a number of prominent victims groups to carry out the research behind the amendment, including Della, a campaigner and ambassador at the Safeguarding Alliance.

Laura Farris
Victims Minister Laura Farris has confirmed the law change will be added as an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill (Alamy)

The Labour MP said that the law change showed that "if you're stubborn, and you use the system, and you try and work in a cross-party way, you can make changes" even as a backbench MP.

But Champion expressed concern that the police are "already hard pushed" and lacking in resource. "The passport office, the driving licence office, even though they're both government departments, they're not linked into the police system at the moment," she added. 

"They've got [a similar law] for terrorists. So they have got the bones to do it. But they do need the resources to be able to enact it."

The Criminal Justice Bill will return to Parliament next Wednesday where it will reach report stage followed by a debate at the third reading before it is able to enter into law. With government and cross-party support, Champion said she expects it will pass through both the Commons and Lords.

"In a couple of months, once it's enacted, it then should mean that if you're a victim of domestic abuse or with a new partner, you can call up get that check done and have certainty that Joe Bloggs who you're in a relationship is the Joe Bloggs that they're checking," Champion said.

"So it's great, whereas at the moment, they could literally be anyone."

She added that she would have "more coming" on the Criminal Justice Bill, including amendments to put more protections in place for children "because they're very much overlooked in our current legal system".

Writing to Champion in a letter to confirm the amendment, Farris wrote: "The measures outlined above will complement existing systems and processes that prevent RSOs [registered sex offenders] from obtaining clean DBS certificates or passports in names previously unknown to the authorities to gain access to vulnerable people.

"I hope that these measures will address the concerns that you have raised on the issue of name changes by SOs and, most importantly, provide victims with greater confidence that RSOs will not be able to evade safeguarding controls. Thank you again for your commitment and dedication on this matter."

The Maggie Oliver Foundation, a charity which supports survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation, said the amendment would be a "really important change".

The campaigner Della said it had been a "five-year long battle that's finally seeing results" and would "look forward to seeing the finer details in the coming weeks".

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