The findings of the NSW Law Reform Commission into the inquiry of discrete parts of the Bail Act 2013 (NSW) have supported the NSWCCL submission concluding that no changes should be made to the Bail Act 2013 (NSW) in relation to the issues raised by the terms of reference.
Bail laws exist to keep victims and the community safe until criminal proceedings are finalised, while safeguarding the presumption of innocence and general right to be at liberty until a matter is determined by the courts.
Given their significant potential to limit individual liberty, changes to the Bail Act must be justified by a clear and compelling policy rationale. Any such changes must be supported by appropriate evidence. NSWCCL's submission supports this.
Concerns by the majority of stakeholders were expressed that the contemplated changes would likely:
• unnecessarily capture conduct that does not constitute a high degree of criminality
• increase the rate of bail refusals, including for people who may not receive a custodial penalty if found guilty
• lead to further growth in an already significant remand population, which would adversely affect individuals and the community
• frustrate government initiatives to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody
• add further complexity to an already intricate statutory framework, and
• increase court workloads and backlogs by adding to the complexity of bail applications.
The Bail Act endeavours to strike a balance between community safety, the presumption of innocence and the general right to be at liberty.
Show Cause Requirement
In our submission, we identified inherent difficulties with the show cause requirement. NSWCCL submitted that show cause should be reserved for the most serious and high risk offences and the report reached a similar conclusion. The report identified inherent difficulties with the show cause requirement.
This included criticisms that it:
· is unnecessary, as the unacceptable risk test is sufficient to address risks, and
· contributes to the over-incarceration of people who have not been convicted of any
Building on the second point, we described the show cause requirement as akin to a presumption against bail. The Aboriginal Legal Service argued that show cause “reverses the onus of proof, encroaches on the presumption of innocence and can lead to detention for allegations of relatively minor offending”.
The NSW Police Force (NSWPF) argued that the “inherent risks” associated with firearms offences warrants making further categories of firearms offences subject to the show cause requirement. It considered the existing inclusion of certain firearms offences as show cause offences demonstrated Parliament’s awareness of these risks.
However we argued and the report agreed that by selecting only certain categories of firearms offences for inclusion in section 16B, Parliament signalled it regarded them as more serious and suggestive of risk than other firearms offences. That is, the show cause requirement already covers the firearms offences considered to be the most serious and to involve the greatest degree of risk. As the Bar Association argued, the “gravamen of serious firearms offending is already captured by section 16B(1)(d)”.
The report supported with our submission that we do not support the inclusion of other firearms offences. The inquiry found "Certainly we did not receive any evidence, in the form of statistics or caselaw, demonstrating any need for this expansion."
The impact of remand on individuals and the community
Remand can significantly affect the lives of people subjected to it. This is particularly the case for vulnerable members of the community who are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. Remand can negatively
affect mental health, with higher rates of suicide among the remand population compared with the sentenced prison population.
NSWCCL and the Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW) noted in our submissions that even a short time in custody can have a detrimental impact on the individual. It can include loss of employment, loss of accommodation, reduced access to services and breakdown of relationships. It also increases the likelihood of recidivism. It is particularly concerning if the person being held on remand is not likely to receive a custodial sentence and is therefore being exposed to the prison system only through remand.
The committee concluded that they were are not persuaded that the Bail Act should include further guidance on the meaning or legislative definition of “criminal associations”. The Bar Association supported our position to oppose the
introduction of a legislative definition. If any definition was introduced, we believe it should contain safeguards to specify that simply associating with someone who has a criminal history is not sufficient to establish a person has criminal associations.
3. Show cause and firearms offences
Recommendation 3.1: Expanding show cause to include further firearms offences
The list of show cause offences in section 16B of the Bail Act 2013 (NSW) should not be expanded to include further firearms offences.
Recommendation 3.2: Unlawful private possession of a pistol or prohibited firearm
Section 16B(1)(d)(ii) of the Bail Act 2013 (NSW) should not be amended to include the unlawful possession of a pistol or prohibited firearm in a private place as a show cause offence.
Recommendation 3.3: Possession in breach of a firearms prohibition order
Section 16B of the Bail Act 2013 (NSW) should not be amended to include the possession of a pistol or prohibited firearm in breach of a firearms prohibition order as a show cause offence.
4. Show cause and criminal association offences
Recommendation 4.1: Expanding show cause to further criminal association offences
The list of show cause offences in section 16B of the Bail Act 2013 (NSW) should not be expanded to include further offences relating to criminal associations.
5. Show cause and criminal association offences
Recommendation 5.1: Legislative guidance on “criminal associations”
The Bail Act 2013 (NSW) should not be amended to include further legislative guidance on the meaning of “criminal associations”.
6. Other issues raised in this review
Recommendation 6.1: Adding other orders to section 18(1)(f) of the Bail Act 2013 (NSW)
Firearm prohibition orders and serious crime prevention orders should not be added to the list of orders in section 18(1)(f) of the Bail Act 2013 (NSW).
The full report is available here.