Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bail law reforms to go ahead

The Sunday Telegraph | November 25 2012

ATTORNEY General Greg Smith will stick to his plans to reform bail laws despite police opposition, saying only those likely to abscond, re-offend or hurt someone will be put in jail and the rest will walk free.

Mr Smith believes bail laws are too complex and so tough they "almost made bail an alternative form of imprisonment". Critics fear changes will give criminals a "get out of jail free" card.

In June, the Law Reform Commission suggested presumptions for or against bail depending on offence should be scrapped and the accused should be released unless they are a risk of absconding, reoffending or harming someone.

It was concerned that too many people, particularly young and indigenous, are in jail even though they have not been convicted of a crime.

Mr Smith told The Sunday Telegraph that the government's response to the review, expected this week, would be "sympathetic" to the report.

"That will be the test. If the court is satisfied that any of those things might happen, they will be bail refused. Otherwise they will be bail granted.

"The act and the ultimate act will draw much from the learning that went into the review. It won't strictly stick to many of the recommendations but it will be sympathetic to some of the principles espoused in the review."

He said there would be announcements on specific presumptions, but would not be drawn further.

Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione is opposed to the changes, saying the current laws work well, as is the Police Association, which warns that watering down bail conditions would endanger the community.

Premier Barry O'Farrell has pledged cabinet would not weaken bail laws.

Smith denied suggestion colleagues have been hostile about the changes, saying they have given him "magnificent" support. "The report will be a reasoned report and it will be a unanimous view of the cabinet and the government."

But the Police Association warns that change to the bail laws would give criminals a get out of jail free card.

"Tough bail laws are pivotal to a safe community and we are hopeful that the government will not move towards weakening these protections which are designed to keep criminals behind bars, he said.

"The recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission would put the community at risk if they were implemented."

"Bail laws should help make our society safer. Any watering down of community protections by allowing persons accused of serious and violent crimes to be released on bail would be out of touch with community expectations."

The Law Society NSW supports reforms to the bail laws. "We were very pleased with the report," said President Justin Dowd.

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