Friday, July 29, 2011

John Hatzistergos and the Bail Act

In the week the NSW Law Reform Commission received submissions on the review of the Bail Act, and begins its' work on the preparation of Hal Sperling QC's much anticipated report to Government, it is worth reflecting on the state our remand population is in, and how it got there.

Many of you will remember fondly the former Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, who had this to say to Parliament in 2007:
“The Government is pleased to introduce the Bail Amendment Bill 2007. The bill builds on the Government’s extensive reforms over the past years to strengthen our bail laws and ensure the community is properly protected while defendants are awaiting trial. New South Wales now has the toughest bail laws in Australia. Over the last few years we have cracked down on repeat offenders – people who habitually come before our courts time and again. Part of those changes includes removing the presumption in favour of bail for a large number of crimes. We have also introduced presumptions against bail for crimes including drug importation, firearm offences, repeat property offences and riots, and an even more demanding exceptional circumstances test for murder and serious personal violence, including sexual assault. 
Those type of offenders now have a much tougher time being granted bail under our rigorous system. These extensive changes have delivered results. There is no doubt that the inmate population, particularly those on remand, has risen considerably as a result of the changes. In fact, the number of remand prisoners has increased by 20 per cent in the last three years alone and new jails are being opened to accommodate the increase.”
Bless him. He was actually proud of himself. What he failed to mention was the huge increase in the juvenile remand population under his watch, and how very few of these young people actually went on to serve a control order (sentence of detention).

If you want to read someone break this and every other bail-related topic down, then head to the excellent submission by former Magistrate, Max Taylor, for the NSW Council of Civil Liberties here.

An excerpt from his work:
The shameful way this society treats unconvicted juveniles is set out at 0.7. When half the 12 to 17 year olds in gaol are on remand and the reality is that 80% of such young people will not receive a control order within 12 months, then something has gone radically wrong with the bail system. In should be added that juvenile admissions to remand have increased from 3203 in 2005-2006 to 4439 in 2009-2010. In 2005-2006 only 392 went from remand to control. Out of a total of 5073 admissions to Juvenile Justice Centres in 2009-2010 only 472 went from remand to control.

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