1 Aug 2012

Justice minister backs proposed new bail laws

7:02 pm on 1 August 2012

The Justice Minister is making no apology for proposed new bail laws, saying they are aimed at serious offenders.

MPs considering the Bail Amendment Bill have been urged to tread carefully before overturning the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

One significant change is reversing the onus of proof, so defendants charged with murder would have to prove they should be released on bail, and convince the court they will not commit an offence.

That would also apply to those charged with serious drug or sexual offences, previously convicted of those crimes.

However, Judith Collins says the provisions will prevent further offences being committed such as methamphetamine dealers using their time on bail to cook up large amounts of the drug before sentencing.

Law Society urges caution

The Law Society acknowledged that some people have reoffended while on bail, and that some of those crimes have been fatal.

But Andrew Butler urged MPs to take care before changing the law.

"For the first time Parliament is being asked to pass a bill which says, in the case of particular types of offending, the onus is reversed and the defendant, simply by dint of the fact of an allegation of offending, they carry the burden of showing why it is that they should be allowed out on bail.

He said it was a very significant step Parliament was being asked to take.

The Police Association told MPs new powers for police to deal with defendants under the age of 17 are not tough enough, and would give those young people too much leeway to breach bail conditions.

That view was echoed by the National Council of Women and the Human Rights Commission.

Reverse burden a 'step too far'

The National Council of Women says there is a strong view within its membership that the reverse burden of proof is a step too far.

However, Jean Fuller told the committee the council generally agrees with the proposals.

"The National Council of Women is concerned with issues of violence against women and the threat that someone on bail might pose.

"Similarly there are questions raised in relation to a woman having to face her rapist in the community and the emotional and psychological impact that might have on her."