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Police Association recommends significant reforms to Victoria’s bail system

The Police Association has recommended a raft of significant reforms to the bail system in our submission to Justice Paul Coghlan QC, who has been commissioned by the Victorian Government to review our bail laws.

Informed by the opinions conveyed to us by 860 Association members through a recent survey, we argue a strong case for widespread and urgent change in our submission, culminating in several key recommendations for Justice Coghlan to consider.

A recurring theme emanating from the feedback received from members is that the circumstances of the accused are currently given much more weight in bail decisions at the expense of victims and community safety.

A high degree of frustration and disillusionment was also expressed by members at the lack of consideration given to evidence and expertise provided by police when opposing bail.

Some of our key findings and recommendations can be summarised as follows;

  • 96 percent of members who responded to our survey told us that the Bail Act should be amended to enable and empower police members of or above the rank of Sergeant (in out-of-hours bail applications) to remand an offender in custody to the next available court sitting
  • That the Bail Justice system be abolished;
  • That police be given greater access to courts to conduct out-of-hours bail applications through an increase in court operating hours and video conferencing;
  • 87 percent of members say that the current test to trigger ‘exceptional circumstances’ when Magistrates consider bail applications are far too subjective and that these tests should be replaced by objective standards that reflect the principles of reasonableness;
  • Almost 80 percent of members say that the test to establish an ‘unacceptable risk’ has become too subjective and is compromising public safety. We say in our submission that this should be replaced with an objective standard that restores the balance away from repeat offenders toward greater regard for public safety. To this effect, we recommend amending legislation to oblige Magistrates to give significantly higher regard to police assessments regarding the ‘unacceptable risk’ test in bail hearings.
  • 83 percent of members say that more offences or circumstances need to be included in what triggers a ‘show cause’ determination. These would include serious offences that endanger police and public safety, including carjacking, pursuits, evading police, and assaults/threats on police and other emergency services workers;
  • That the entirety of an accused’s criminal history be considered in bail hearings with a greater emphasis placed on prior and current breaches of bail and failures to appear;
  • That the current LEAP system be improved to ensure that an offender’s bail status and court dates are automatically updated;

The Police Association has had an opportunity to follow up on our written submission with a recent face-to-face meeting with Justice Coghlan to explain our findings and recommendations in more detail.

Justice Coghlan is expected to report his findings and recommendations on his review of the state’s bail system to the Victorian Government in April.

We sincerely thank all members who took the time and made the effort to provide their valuable knowledge and share their first-hand experience of the bail system by responding to our survey.

Your feedback is critical in enabling your Association to prosecute, what we believe to be, a compelling case to bring about significant changes to our bail system that would make our community safer.

Members are invited to read The Police Association’s full submission to the review of Victoria’s Bail System here.

Wayne Gatt

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