NSW Labor last night joined with the Coalition to pass amendments to the NSW Bail Act that remove the presumption of innocence from the purposes of the Bail Act and reinstate complicated and unwieldy presumptions against bail. They made these changes with no supportive evidence and after only a few short months of operation of the new Bail Act.
The changes take the Bail Act back 10 years to a complex, technical and unprincipled scheme where the presumption of innocence is largely lost. The arguments advanced for this bill relate to addressing the risk posed by certain bail decisions, and yet the proposed model moves substantially away from the current unacceptable risk model to one about “bail concerns”.
Substantial concerns were raised about the changes by a number of groups including Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR Media Release NSW Bail Laws), the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL on Bail Bill 2014) and the NSW Bar Association (NSW Bar Association on Bail Bill).
- The new Bail Act commenced on 20 May 2014.
- The review was announced on 27 June 2014, with former Attorney General John Hatzistergos tasked with the job.
- The report was presented on the 4 August 2014 with no public consultation, and many stakeholders reporting they had not been contacted as part of the review.
- Notice of the bill was given the following day, with the second reading on the 13 August 2014.
The full text of the debate is available on the Parliament website here.
Copies of the bill are available here.
NSW Greens MP and Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge said:
“This Bill undermines the presumption of innocence for every citizen in NSW, and is an attack on this fundamental principle in our criminal justice system.
“Again we have seen both NSW Labor and the Coalition undermine public confidence in our State’s world-class criminal justice system in pursuit of cheap media copy.
“Unlike the Coalition and Labor, the Greens have faith in the ability of our courts to protect the public interest and rationally apply risk-based bail laws.
“These amendments take NSW back to a complex scheme that relies on statutory presumptions, rather than the best evidence, to make many bail decisions.
“With the passing of this Bill, many bail decisions will be based on the alleged offence that was committed rather than the actual risk posed by the accused. This will not make NSW safer.
“These poorly thought out changes to the Act will only distract courts from their core task of assessing whether or not the grant of bail poses an unacceptable risk. The end result will be confused and conflicted decision making on bail.
“Astoundingly these amendments have been made after only a few short months of operation of the new Bail Act.
“Criminal justice reforms are complex and should never be undertaken with so little evidence.
“It is genuinely disturbing to see no principles being applied by the major parties when they join together to tear down what was a well-balanced and functional Bail Act in this State,” Mr Shoebridge said.