Bail Amendment (Stage Two) Bill 2017

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to speak on behalf of the Greens to the Bail Amendment (Stage Two) Bill 2017, which I understand makes further changes to the bail system in response to the bail review undertaken by Justice Coghlan, with this bill really addressing those measures of the bail system or providing greater context around the decision-making process, about whether to grant bail and then adding context around the balance of presumption of innocence and community safety.

The Greens will be supporting this bill. Certainly it is our hope that the bill will remove some of the uncertainty around the granting of bail and will lead to a better system that will make it more difficult for serious offenders to be granted bail and not just result in more people being held in remand, which is problematic itself.

There are a few areas where I think the bill is inconsistent with the Coghlan review recommendations, and I will be raising my concerns about that. The bill specifies some new tests for when the granting of bail needs to be applied, including more detail that gives some direction in terms of how to apply those tests. The bill introduces a system of police remand, which will give senior officers the power to remind people without the option of applying to a bail justice, and this excludes vulnerable and/or Indigenous adults and children. That applies to offences are low-level offences classified as schedule 1 and low-level indictable offences. Under this system an accused who has been refused bail will be unable to apply to a bail justice as soon as possible and instead will be brought before a court as soon as practicable or else before a bail justice if the court is not available within 48 hours.

The bill also looks at the definition of what a vulnerable adult is, and that is clarified. People falling in those categories will be exempt from police remand, with that assessment to be made by the police, something which we have got a few issues with. The bill also makes some changes to the Children and Justice Legislation Amendment (Youth Justice Reform) Act 2017. We will be examining those further to make sure we have got the full protection of the rights of children within the justice system.

There are concerns around the police remand system. It is preferable, as stated by Justice Coghlan in his report, that police can remand people overnight rather than just allow them to remain in custody until they can be seen by a court as soon as practicable. So there are some issues there. There is an issue in that in the absence of the bail and remand court it is likely that potential overcrowding at remand centres and police cells will worsen when the intention is not necessarily for an automatic increase in the number held in remand but to make sure that we are targeting those serious offenders to be held in remand.

The second issue is the job of assessment being put onto police officers to categorise accused people as either vulnerable or not. These safeguard measures, which are there to protect vulnerable members of our community, really need the independence and expertise required for making such important decisions. There is a high number of people with mental health and other vulnerabilities in our justice system, so we really need to make sure that the people assessing the accused as to whether or not they are vulnerable are appropriately qualified. In Justice Coghlan's report he did recommend that the law enforcement assistance program be reviewed and improved, because that is, as I understand it, what the police are going to be relying on to make these assessments. We do not want people who are vulnerable — if the circumstances warrant it — to be held in remand. Obviously we do not want them erroneously held in remand.

With this legislation there is also a concern that the bail reforms that the government is seeking to implement are not being made in an holistic or logical manner. It has sort of been a bits-and-pieces approach to the recommendations from Justice Coghlan. The government has been introducing them sporadically, which really creates issues with how they then get implemented. If it is being done bit by bit and it is not clear when the next changes are due to be implemented — rather than taking, say, a holistic approach — it really does present a challenge for those who have to administer the law. I think doing it holistically or in one lot would be preferable to those people who are actually having to administer the laws.

Additional matters that were raised by Justice Coghlan, again, are not in this bill. There were recommendations to remove minor offences from the court system that stop people reoffending again. There were further resources recommended for the Court Integrated Services Program and research to assess the program's effectiveness. A number of things that were raised in Justice Coghlan's report have not been implemented. It would be far more preferable for the government to look at this measure in a much more holistic way.

The Greens will be supporting this bill. Again, I point out to the government that in implementing changes to our bail system it would certainly be better to take up Mr Coghlan's recommendations, or respond to his recommendations, in a much more holistic and fulsome way. I think that would create not just a better bail system but a better administered bail system as well.