No-one wants to see people who are likely to hurt people released on bail. That’s why successive governments have tightened bail rules. Now Sensible [sic] Sentencing wants every charged with a crime bearing 2 or more years locked up without bail. Not the first organisation with those initials to favour guilt upon accusation and punishment without trial. Michael Bott takes up the story.
Garth McVicar spokesperson for the SS Trust wants to make it difficult for people presumed innocent to get bail, especially violent offenders. By “violent” he uses a definition that includes those defendants charged with an offence that attracts a sentence of 2 years or more. “No bail for any person accused of an offence which attracts a sentence of two years or more. (NZ Herald 28 February 2012) .”
Under the suggested changes to “toughen up” our already tough bail laws, Greenpeace protester Lucy Lawless would be remanded in custody without bail as “burglary” is a charge that attracts a maximum sentence of 10 years. [And with trials taking anything from 6 months to 4 years to happen, a potentially innocent person could be long time locked up without conviction or even trial. Eddie]
If there are around 9000 inmates currently in our prisons and it costs $285-00 per day to house them, that means it costs our country $2,565,000-00 per day to house our inmate population. If we start banging away peace or environmental protesters it is going to become very expensive to deny our citizens their liberty even though they are still presumed innocent. The Government is looking to kick-start our economy with the Christchurch rebuild, no doubt if we toughen our bail laws in this absurd way we will also be doing it by building more prisons. Anyway you look at it, these changes are more expensive than sensible.
The suggested changes are offensive to the doctrine of separation of powers in that if Police (part of the Executive) are unhappy with a reasoned bail decision they can ignore the decision and veto it, automatically transferring the decision to an appellate court. So the executive would make inroads into the judicial sphere, with the judge no longer a neutral umpire who can make a final decision, merely a toothless source of helpful suggestions that police are free to ignore if they choose.
There is a kind of naivety in all of this campaign. For one it presupposes that people who are charged with crimes attracting a sentence of over 2 years (if convicted) automatically lose their liberty by dint of being charged, must be guilty, because the Police are always right. Further, we can trust the Police because they are always correct and get the bad guys. We know this is true, because the bad guy has been charged. The corollary being that any notion of a robust defence can be dispensed with, because being charged is pretty much game set and match. This sort of right wing world view, which right wing populist PM John Key appears to share (he is reported as saying “he is open to considering tougher laws on bail), in reality belongs in some kind of black and white fictional town called “Pleasantville.”
Further, when a person who is granted bail re-offends the SS Trust want the Judge to be held “accountable” – I don’t know what this means, but the worry is they want to impose some kind of retribution or punishment when occasionally a judge makes a bad call. This directly erodes notions of independence. Could anyone have a fair hearing, if a judge is always looking over his or her back at some kind of opinion poll? This begs the question, why have a judiciary at all? Why not just have a prime time 0900 phone in number?
* No bail for any person accused of an offence involving serious violence as defined by the “three strikes” legislation.* No bail for any person accused of an offence which attracts a sentence of two years or more.* Police given the discretionary power to veto a judge’s decision to grant bail which would then automatically move the application to a higher court.* The views of victims of violent offending be given paramount consideration.* Every serious bail breach is formally investigated.* More accountability for judges who expose the public to undue risk.
– Michael Bott