NSW Bail Act changes attacked by media
Proposed changes to the Bail Act in NSW have been supported by legal bodies but widely criticised in the media.
NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith tabled a report into the Bail Act (the Act) by the NSW Law Reform Commission on Wednesday (13 June).
The report made some scathing criticisms of the Act.
It described the “cumulative effect” of numerous amendments to the Act over the years as adding a “complexity to the legislation which makes it difficult to comprehend and operate, even for those with legal expertise”.
The current Bail Act was first enacted into law in 1978.
The report was headed by Hal Sperling QC and James Wood QC, who was the Royal Commissioner that presided over a Royal Commission into the NSW Police Force.
The NSW Law Reform Commission report said that rates of detention had increased rapidly in the past 20 years and singled out the rates of unsentenced detention for young people and Indigenous Australians as being of “concern”.
The report recommended that the right to bail should be replaced with an entitlement for unconditional release for defendants charged with fine-only offences, certain offences under the Summary Offences Act 1988 and defendants referred to a Youth Justice Conference.
The report also recommends that adults be able to make two, rather than one, applications to the court for bail.
“We believe that bail reform is necessary to restore balance in the system, reintroduce the presumption of innocence and address issues relating to the high rate of juvenile detention in NSW,” said Justin Dowd (pictured above), the president of the Law Society of NSW. “This should help to reduce the burden on the prison system and the financial burden this creates for the community.”
Despite an overhaul of the Act being supported by the NSW Law Society and other bodies such as the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, conservative media commentators have hit out at the report, believing its recommendations have the potential to allow individuals accused of serious criminal offences such as murder and rape to be freed on bail, pending trial.
The NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith has indicated that the NSW Government will look to implement some or all of the report’s recommendations.
“The Government went to the election with a commitment to review the Bail Act and that is what we are doing,” he said. “The Bail Act is so complex it is little wonder we regularly get decisions that are inconsistent and confuse the public.”
Smith said the Government would respond to the recommendations by the end of the year.