An overhaul of the way sexual offenders are prevented from working with children has been finalised and will soon be discussed by the Cabinet, the Times of Malta has learnt.

The reform, drafted by lawyers engaged by the Education and Home Affairs Ministries, is based on the system used in the UK, which offers wider information and is administered by trained professionals.

Experts have repeatedly raised concerns about Malta’s current court register system, saying it was too complicated and not comprehensive enough. 

The head of the Church body tasked with investigating claims of the sexual abuse of minors, Andrew Azzopardi, has said most of the victims he saw were reluctant to involve the police or the courts, fearing the embarrassment of their ordeal becoming public.

This, he said, could result in a situation where offenders remained in contact with children because they had never been listed on the court register of offenders.

Court register system is too complicated, not comprehensive enough

His concerns were shared by social workers and professionals, who contacted the Times of Malta saying they had raised the matter with the authorities in recent years.

Sources who worked on the reform said it was viewed as the best way to close legal gaps that experts feared offenders might be slipping through.

The UK system, known as the Disclosure and Barring Service, enables organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors to make safer recruitment decisions.

It identifies candidates who may be unsuitable for certain work, especially involving children or vulnerable adults.

The UK system provides wider access to  information on criminal records through its disclosure service, which flags unsuitable candidates, the sources said.

They added that the protection offered through the reform would be different from that currently afforded by the present sex offenders’ register, which bars a person from working with children once they have a criminal conviction.

The UK service operates based on two lists, one barring a person from working with children and another from working with vulnerable adults. It allows for referrals from an organisation that has a legal duty or power to flag offenders or potential offenders to the service.

Through it, employers are legally obliged to refer people they have dismissed for causing harm to a child or a vulnerable adult.

Referrals are also made to the service when an employer or organisation, such as a regulatory body, school or sports club, has concerns that a person has caused harm or poses a future risk of harm.

The police and the courts too can refer cases to the service.

People whose names feature on one of the lists can appeal the decision.

The lists are not open to the public, and information is only disclosed to parties on a need-to-know basis.

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