Last week David hosted a forum at Parliament to discuss the Bail Act review. Speakers included former DPP Nicholas Cowdery, Jane Needham SC and Dr Julia Quilter.
The forum was a great success, showcasing the widespread opposition from legal experts to the kneejerk review of the Bail Act so soon after its implementation.
The current Bail Act only came into force on May 20. The Act was a warmly welcomed simplification of the law. It removed complex presumptions against granting bail and put in place a universal test based on the risk that an alleged offender posed to the community, the justice system or any witnesses.
In the short time that the Act has been in place, there has been a drop in prisoners being held on remand. Whether this is caused by the Act or other factors is impossible to say at this early stage. As Nicholas Cowdery said, “The new legislation seems to be doing its job”, but stressed that more time is needed to fully understand how the laws will operate.
Only a few weeks after the legislation passed through the Parliament withe the unanimous support of all MPs, the Baird Government announced that there would be a review of the Bail Act. Head of the NSW Bar Association Jane Needham SC said that this was “A review based on alarmist suggestions in some corners of the press” that the new laws were letting a swathe of dangerous people out onto the streets.
Legal academic Julia Quilter emphasised the premature nature of the review, saying that “We know very little about how the regime operates … case law is very much in its infancy” and pointing out that Parliament anticipated that a significantly longer period would be needed before a review. The legislation itself called for a review after three years.
The review is being conducted by former NSW Attorney General John Hatzistergos, who helped make the original bail legislation so convoluted and punitive that it needed to be overhauled in the first place.
This is the start of a continuing campaign to keep decent, principled and balanced bail laws in NSW.