Under the new law, sex offenders will no longer be able to change their names

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Under the new law, sex offenders will no longer be able to change their names

An amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill will make it impossible for sex offenders to legally change their names on documents such as passports and driving licences. (Alamy)

4 minutes reading

A new restriction on sex offenders legally changing their names is about to come into force after years of campaigning by survivor groups, with the Labor MP who proposed it recognizing the benefits of cross-party cooperation.

An amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, tabled by Labor MP Sarah Champion, to prevent sex offenders from changing their names has been officially accepted by the Government.

The new clause gives police the power to prevent registered sex offenders from changing their names on documents such as passports and driving licenses. Sex offenders will therefore have to ask police permission to change their names, which will only be granted under “several exceptions” such as marriage or religious conversion. Police will have “the discretion to override these laws where they believe the need to protect the public from sexual harm so requires” and people who break this law could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

The Criminal Justice Bill was introduced in the King’s Speech last year and proposed a range of measures including forcing defendants to attend their hearings, imposing a duty on organizations to report concerns about child sexual abuse, criminalizing from sharing intimate images, expanding drug testing upon arrest and giving police more powers and access to data to tackle crime.

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Campaigners have called for a change in the law to prevent sex offenders from effectively ‘disappearing’ or offending again after changing their identity.

Champion said PoliticsHome she was “surprised” that the government had decided to go ahead with it in this parliament, but praised the ministers who had helped make it happen, including Prisons Minister Edward Agar and Victims Minister Laura Farris. Home Secretary James Cleverly already committed to implementing this change into law in December last year. Mark Fletcher, the Conservative MP for Bolsover, has also campaigned on the issue and previously introduced a bill.

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

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

The Labor MP said the change in the law showed that “if you are stubborn, use the system and try to work across party lines, you can make change”, even as a backstabbing MP.

But Champion expressed concern that police are “already under heavy strain” and under-resourced. “The passport office and the driver’s license office, even though they are both government departments, they are not currently connected to the police system,” she added.

“They have [a similar law] for terrorists. So they have the bones to do it. But they do need the resources to implement it.”

The Criminal Justice Bill will return to Parliament next Wednesday, where it will reach report stage, followed by a third reading debate before it can be passed into law. With cross-party government and cross-party support, Champion said she expects it to go through both the House of Commons and the Lords.

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“In a few months’ time, once it’s in place, it should mean that if you’re a victim of domestic abuse or have a new partner, you can call to have that check done and have the assurance that Joe Bloggs is in whom you are in a relationship are the Joe Bloggs they control,” Champion said.

“So it’s great, when at this point they could literally be anyone.”

She added that there would be “more” to come on the Criminal Justice Bill, including amendments to provide greater protection for children “as these are sorely overlooked in our current justice system”.

Farris wrote in a letter to Champion confirming the amendment: “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 authorities to gain access to vulnerable people.

“I hope that these measures will address the concerns you have raised about the issue of name changes by SOs and, importantly, give victims greater confidence that RSOs will not be able to evade security checks. Thank you again for your efforts and dedication to this cause.”

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

Campaigner Della said it had been a “five-year battle that is finally delivering results” and that he was “looking forward to seeing the finer details in the coming weeks”.

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