Scrapping bail for “serious” crimes dangerous and goes too far, rights group warns

Scrapping bail for “serious” crimes dangerous
and goes too far, rights group warns

The idea that some people facing "serious" offences should not be allowed to apply for bail is dangerous and unnecessary, Liberty Victoria warned today.

According to the rights group's president, Jessie Taylor, "Anyone with experience in the legal system knows that prosecution cases are often weak at the early stage when someone is first arrested and charged.  There are long delays with potential vital evidence, such as DNA testing, and our prison system simply could not cope with a dramatic upswing in the number of people remanded while those processes take place."

She said Liberty supports a full review into the tragic Bourke Street Mall deaths and why the alleged offender was on bail. 

"Liberty Victoria also supports the Andrews Government reforms that would see bail applications decided by Magistrates as part of an after-hours court, provided such a court is properly resourced, can hear applications urgently and accused people have access to a lawyer." 

But she cautioned that some proposed reforms to bail laws are alarmist and short-sighted.

"Criminal law, including bail, is underpinned by the presumption of innocence. In some cases bail should be refused because the accused person is too dangerous to the community. A refusal of bail should, however, never be automatic.

"An accused person should always be able to have an independent judicial officer review whether he or she should be in custody. That is a fundamental principle underpinning our legal system." 

Ms Taylor said there is simply no way the overcrowded prison system could cope with moves to hold more people in jail for longer. "Victoria’s prison population has expanded dramatically over the last decade, and this has caused huge problems, including some prisoners not being brought to court as required.

"The call by some to change the test for refusal of bail from an accused person presenting as an 'unacceptable risk' to a mere 'risk' would plainly be unworkable in practice - and if applied literally would see almost no person ever bailed in Victoria. It would effectively place into the hands of the police the decision whether a person’s liberty should be taken away, without independent oversight.

"And it is inconsistent with the role of a jury to decide guilt and innocence."

She said recent history tragically shows that serious mistakes have been made by decision makers who have been under-resourced and who have not been provided with all relevant information. The Callinan review into the case of Adrian Bayley noted that the Adult Parole Board was still operating off paper files and made decisions with incomplete information. 

"Before we abandon our system of bail law because it's politically expedient, shouldn't we find out exactly what went wrong, and how such mistakes can be prevented in future?"