Following several weeks of ill-informed media agitation led by the DT criticising the release on bail of several persons charged with serious crimes, Premier Baird has set up a hasty review of the new bail law which has been in operation for only one month.
This is a distressing development. There is no reason for a review at this time. The bail law reforms implemented in 2013 by the current Government were moderate and ‘supported by the overwhelming majority of submissions to the Law Reform Commission’s review of bail, including the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Police and Legal Aid NSW." (Premier Baird launching the Hatzistergos review SMH 27/6/1).
Nothing extraordinary has happened. Numbers of legal experts have noted that it would have been possible for the persons generating the controversy to have been released under the old bail laws.
The trend data for any sensible review is not available and not much will be by the end of July when Mr Hatzistergos has to provide an interim report.
On the broader scale this is another depressing manifestation of the destructive dynamic of the law and order auction syndrome that bedevils state politics.
Prior to the election of the current Government the shadow Attorney General Greg Smith gave us all momentary hope that he might be able to short circuit this syndrome in favour of rational and evidence based policy making. From the outside it appears he tried in relation to bail (with some success) and mandatory minimum sentencing. He is no longer AG. The current Attorney General Brad Hazzard’s initial response to the current furore was a calm and intelligent defence of the bail laws and the obvious need to monitor them over a reasonably long period to assess their impact. He noted that a group including the police and the Attorney Generals department had been set up to do just that. (DT 19/6/14 )
Nonetheless, it only took another week for the Premier to succumb to the DT led campaign and announce a hasty review.
The Leader of the Opposition John Robertson contributed to the pressure with some cheap shots at Hazzard and the Government implying they had put community safety at risk: ‘They said community safety would not be put at risk because accused criminals at risk of re-offending would not be given bail. I think the public has every right to question how the government is delivering on this commitment in light of recent incidents.” DT 26/6/14 The next day he taunted the Attorney General with the rather bizarre accusation that he was avoiding a review of the new bail laws ‘to halt an explosion in the prison population’. (DT 27/6/14)
The law and order auction dynamic is sadly alive and well.
NSWCCL agrees with the NSW Law Society and other legal experts. This review should not be occurring at this time. Given that the Government has jumped, we must hope that Mr Hatzistergos brings an open mind to the task. As Attorney General he was seen by many as a keen law and order auction player.