The Guardian April 10, 2002


More jail and no bail

"What was once the right of an accused person to bail has now become a 
privilege under Carr's proposed new changes to the Bail Act", warns the 
organisation Justice Action. It is a dangerous attack on the presumption of 
innocence, as the new legislation will create a discriminatory presumption 
against bail for certain categories of people including repeat offenders 
and those who fail to appear in court.

For reasons of political expediency, the changes deny the accused persons 
the right to a fair trial, encroach upon judicial independence and will 
result in a drastic increase in an already booming prison population. The 
Council for Civil Liberties estimates an increase in the remand population 
by 2,400 people.

The people most likely to be affected by the changes are ex-prisoners and 
the mentally ill who may find it difficult to turn up in court on a 
particular day or at a particular time. It is a new addition to an old 
theme of incarcerating and criminalising the mentally ill.

Likewise, the police will be able to use the new laws to keep ex-prisoners 
on remand for a long time without the need for a conviction, or even a good 
case against them, says Justice Action spokesperson Renee Lees.

In practical terms, denying an accused person bail means that he/she will 
be imprisoned on remand for any length of time. They would be denied an 
income, if employed they would be fired. Family and community support 
networks would be cut.

Legal assistance is often hard to come by for people on remand and the jail 
conditions are appalling. This results in a disproportionately high number 
of remand prisoners committing suicide. In 1999 suicides while in remand 
accounted for 36 per cent of the entire prison population suicides.

All this may happen to someone who may be charged with a non-imprisonable 
offence or found innocent entirely.

Increased police powers make it easier to harass ex-prisoners, zero-
tolerance policing makes it easier to arrest them, the new bail laws now 
also make it easier to incarcerate them and then convict them, asserts 
criminal justice activist Alecia Simmonds.

NSW Premier Carr claims that the new laws will lead to "safer communities". 
This is utter nonsense, as far from serving a rehabilitating function, 
studies have shown that the more time you spend in jail, the more likely 
you are to commit a crime.

Not only will prisoners be eventually released, prisons themselves also 
offer plentiful opportunities for the commission of crimes. Basically, upon 
release from remand, the prisoner (if still alive) will have suffered a 
loss of career, self-esteem, motivation and essential life skills.

The NSW Bail Act is in gross violation of International Law, breaching 
certain sections of the International Convenant on Civil and Political 
Rights, to which Australia is a signatory.

It basically violates the presumption of innocence and breaches the 
principle that the refusal of bail should be the exception.

Categorically denying people bail equates with substantial pre-trial 
judgement. It is an injustice that affronts human dignity, offends 
fundamental principles of law and is all too often fatal in its 
consequences.

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