20 Apr 2018

Possible changes to bail laws 'carries a risk' - Christie's mother

9:43 pm on 20 April 2018

The mother of murdered teenager Christie Marceau has spoken out against any potential changes to bail law.

Andrew Little

Justice Minister Andrew Little has signalled bail laws may be in for a shake-up with the prison population ballooning. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Christie was murdered by Akshay Chand in November 2011 after being bailed only 300 metres from her home, despite being before the courts for her kidnap and assault.

Chand was later acquitted of the murder on grounds of insanity and Christie's death was the catalyst for the stricter bail laws which came into effect two years later.

Today, Justice Minister Andrew Little signalled bail laws may be in for a shake-up with the prison population ballooning due to the number of offenders housed behind bars on remand.

He said changes to bail laws in 2013 had resulted in many offenders being remanded in custody despite posing little risk to the community.

The latest statistics from Corrections show almost 3000 offenders are being remanded in prison as their cases move through the courts.

That's almost twice an many compared to September 2013 when the previous government's bail reforms came into effect, and they now make up almost 30 percent of the prison population.

But Christie's mother, Tracey Marceau, said reforming bail laws would put people at risk and any review should address the delays in court processes which lead to extended remand periods.

"I just think that they really need to review this carefully," Mrs Marceau said.

"My message to Andrew Little would be that he has the chance to...be remembered for doing the right thing. And if he does it properly he will be respected."

Mrs Marceau campaigned for an even stronger regime following her daughter's death.

Backtracking on the previous government's changes would put people at risk, she said.

"I do think it carries a risk. As we know even with the bail laws as they stand now they are still slipping through the cracks and there's still absconders on bail and there's still ones that are committing violent crimes."

Any reform of the justice system should address the delays in court processes which led to offenders being remanded for extended periods, she said.

"They really need to look at sorting out the delays at court so the remand periods wouldn't be so long," she said.

"This put so much stress on not only the victims, but it probably does cause unnecessary duress to the offenders."

She had requested a meeting with Andrew Little and he had accepted it. She intended to canvas ground such as bail and wider justice reform.

Review needed

However, law Professor Mark Henaghan, from the University of Otago, said bail laws were not working at present and a review was necessary.

"I hear that anecdotally from judges and lawyers, they really feel we have gone probably too far, so I think it's a good thing to relook at the bail laws," he said.

"There are thousands of people out on the streets everyday, who may be coming up, who don't do anything wrong so that's a reality. If you just overemphasise safety you put everyone on remand and that would become ridiculous and go against the general principle of innocent until proven guilty."

He agreed any relaxing of bail laws would create some risk, but it was impossible to predict where offending would occur and the public needed to remember those on remand are yet to be convicted of any crime.

But Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Scott Guthrie said any rise in the prison population was simply a symptom of the offending affecting the country.

Any softening of bail laws would be vehemently opposed by the trust.

"We've had so many people that have offended in this country and caused horrific mayhem to families and members of society while they're on bail," he said.

"And the more that we relax the bail laws the more we are going to see that kind of offending.

"It's not acceptable and it just can't be had."

The Justice Minister has not indicated what a changed bail regime will look like, but the matter will be discussed in August at a criminal justice summit.

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