16 Mar 2011

Govt puts up harder line proposals for bail laws

9:10 am on 16 March 2011

The Government has floated several changes to the bail laws which would make it harder for those charged with more serious offences to be released.

The proposals are contained in a discussion document that will form the basis of legislation to be drafted later this year.

They include reversing the burden of proof for people charged with serious Class A drug offences or murder.

The proposals also question whether people facing serious methamphetamine charges or serious sexual or violent offences should still be allowed out on electonically monitored bail.

Youth bail is also covered, with the proposal that the presumption of release on bail for 17 and 19 year olds, who have already served time in prison, should be removed.

The document contains a proposal to make it clear in the law that bail should not given in exchange for information.

An increase in the penalty for failure to answer police bail is also proposed, increasing the current penalty of a fine to three months' imprisonment, or a $1000 fine.

Justice Minister Simon Power says the person charged should be the one who has to prove their case for bail, by showing they do not pose a risk to society.

He says the changes are targeted at the more serious offenders.

However, the Labour Party is questioning the need for the review, saying the National Party is more interested in being able to talk tough on law and order in election year.

Labour Party justice spokesperson Charles Chauvel says there is no evidence that the bail laws are not working at the moment.

Govt should wait, says lawyer

Defence lawyer Nigel Hampton QC says the changes would be premature because they are based on figures from before 2009, when National tightened up the bail laws.

He says the proposal to shift the onus of proof to the defence in some bail hearings intrudes on the presumption of innocence, which is already being eroded.

However, the father of a high school student killed in 2007 by a man on bail says the proposed changes are a step in the right direction.

Haiden Davis, who was 19, killed Augustine Borrell in 2007.

Charlie Borrell says Davis should not have been granted bail again just because he met the age criteria.

Augustine Borrell's father, Charlie Borrell, says his son's killer, 19-year-old Haiden Davis, should not have been granted bail again just because he met the age criteria.

The Law Society's criminal law subcommittee says there are enormous fiscal consequences to the propopsed changes.

Convenor Jonathan Krebs told Morning Report there will be a dramatic increase in the number of people required to be housed in prisons.

He says there may be cases where bail should be refused but electronic monitoring while on bail is effective.