Police fight bail law softening as welfare groups back review

“We can’t afford to see watered down community protections” … NSW Policeman Association president, Scott Weber.POLICE yesterday urged the NSW government to oppose recommendations to relax the state’s tough bail laws.

But community groups broadly welcomed the changes recommended in the Law Reform Commission’s review of the NSW Bail Act. They include reversing the presumption against bail for all offences unless the person’s release would threaten the safety of others or if there was a risk they would not turn up to court.

The opposition from police is likely to fuel tensions within cabinet as it debates the recommendations. The Attorney-General, Greg Smith, will need to persuade colleagues including the Police Minister, Mike Gallacher, to agree to the changes.

The NSW Police Association president, Scott Weber, said strong bail laws helped police cut crime and urged the government not to reverse presumptions against bail yesterday.

”We can’t afford to see watered down community protections,” Mr Weber said.

”Softening those laws to allow persons accused of serious and violent crimes to be released on bail would be a big step in the wrong direction.

”Victim and community protection, as well as ensuring the accused’s appearance at court, should be paramount. Giving an accused a get-out-of-jail-free card is not the answer.”

The chief executive of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Edward Santow, said the Bail Act was overly complex and harsh on vulnerable people.

”Some of its harshest aspects don’t even reduce crime,” he said. ”If implemented, the commission’s recommendations will simplify the NSW law on bail, making it fairer, more consistent and better suited for the whole community.

”For example, one of our homeless clients was charged with minor drug offences. His bail conditions said he couldn’t go within 1000 metres of Kings Cross. But this meant he couldn’t access his support services, counselling, his doctor or methadone clinic.”

Max Taylor, a former magistrate who represents the Bail Reform Alliance, said the commission’s review ”represents a real chance to rectify a great wrong that sees huge numbers of the poor, the young, the intellectually impaired, the drug affected, the homeless and the indigenous denied bail”.

Eleri Morgan-Thomas from Mission Australia urged the government to act swiftly on the review’s recommendations on the young and the vulnerable.

”The number of young people in detention and on remand has drastically increased in recent years and changes need to be made,” she said. ”Half of the young people incarcerated are Aboriginal, the vast majority of those incarcerated will be suffering some form of mental illness and around half have an intellectual disability or borderline intellectual disability.

”This is not the way to treat the most vulnerable young people in our community.”

The Greens MP David Shoebridge said removing the limit on multiple bail applications by young people was needed to reduce the high number who were unnecessarily on remand.

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