THE LAW Society of New South Wales has called for an overhaul of the law for determining bail, submitting key recommendations to the State Government in an effort to make the system simpler, it says.
Labelling the Bail Act 1978 “a complete mess”, Law Society president John McIntyre said it is complicated and “overdue for a rewrite”. He said under the current law too many people who were eventually acquitted by a jury had unnecessarily languished in jail for a long period while they awaited trial. As well, the Society supports the idea that only one of three presumptions should apply when a person goes before the court.
The Bail Act has been amended numerous times over the last 26 years, McIntyre said, “with the government of the day responding in a piecemeal way to its perception of the mood of the community.”
“Bail is not an instrument of punishment. It is a means of ensuring the attendance in court of a person charged with a criminal offence,” McIntyre said.
“Confusion arising from the overly complicated bail laws is contributing to an erosion of public confidence in the legal system.” Simplifying the law and removing the ‘exceptional circumstances’ provisions that complicate the process could eliminate that confusion, he said.
Key recommendations made by the Society support the application of only one of three presumptions when a person goes before the court: either a presumption in favour of bail; a presumption against bail, or a neutral presumption.
The presumption in relation to bail would be determined solely by the seriousness of the offence, McIntyre said.
“The court would then consider an expanded list of all matters relevant to bail, enabling it to have a broader discretion when determining bail for the accused.
“We firmly support the Attorney General’s Department’s proposal to overhaul the Bail Act to achieve a more coherent system when determining if the accused should, or should not be granted bail,” McIntyre said.