The Australian Bar Association has urged the Northern Territory to reconsider proposed bail legislation to remove the presumption in favour of bail for repeat property offenders, saying it will only further exacerbate Australia’s disgraceful Indigenous incarceration rates.
"This proposed legislation will disproportionately target young Indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory, where the rate of indigenous people in prison is close to 90 per cent," ABA president Patrick O’Sullivan QC said.
"Indigenous incarceration is a national crisis and we need to be looking at solutions that divert Indigenous people from the criminal justice system, not the other way around."
The president of the Law Society Northern Territory, Tass Liveris, also expressed concern about the proposed changes to bail laws.
"Everyone is sick and tired of what communities see as the revolving door of jail. We have been on this path for some time and the community is no safer for it. These proposed changes are another step in the wrong direction," Mr Liveris said.
"This does not respond to community concerns because it will not fix the problem – it will only make it worse."
Mr Liveris said community safety is a primary concern, but that a lack of tangible solutions makes the courts' role difficult.
"Bail is never an easy decision," he said.
"It’s not easy to balance the costs and the risks with the evidence of what works and the limited programs available. For the legislators to put the evidence of what works to one side shows that they are lost on real solutions to the problem."
Both Mr O’Sullivan and Mr Liveris pointed to the fact that diversion is the best solution.
"Early intervention, prevention and diversion programs used in the ACT have seen rates of young people in detention decrease by 35 per cent and arrests of young people down by 20 per cent over two years," Mr O’Sullivan said.
Meanwhile, Mr Liveris referred to the Australian Institute of Criminology research that shows young people diverted from the court system are less likely to have further involvement in the criminal justice system.
Mr Liveris welcomed the NT Justice Targets report, which is being undertaken into the justice system and how the targets can be met.
However, he said the Society is concerned that the proposed changes to bail legislation have been made prior to that report being finalised.
"We would like to see these issues tackled in a whole of government way with real targets and real strategies."