Bail Amendment Bill 2015

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to speak on the Bail Amendment Bill 2015. I will refer to the amendments regarding the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 first. This bill will create a presumption in favour of initiating criminal proceedings by summons rather than by arrests, to align with Victoria Police best practice. The Greens strongly support these provisions to address the very important concerns in relation to the large increase of children on remand that were expressed by the Victorian commissioner for children, Mr Bernie Geary, and the former Children's Court president, Peter Couzens Earlier this year Mr Couzens warned that there was a 57 per cent surge in the number of young people under 18 being refused bail between October and the end of December 2014 compared to the same period in the previous year. Many youth advocates at the time blamed the surge on the changes to the Bail Act 1977 made in late 2013, which included the introduction of a new offence to create a condition of bail and the lack of child-specific criteria in the Bail Act.

The Victorian Greens justice spokesperson, Sue Pennicuik, a member for Southern Metropolitan Region in the other place, this year raised with the Attorney-General concerns about the steep increase in the number of children on remand and asked that action be taken to address this very important issue, including that children be excluded from the show-cause provisions of the Bail Act and that the government add child-specific criteria to the sentencing provisions in the Children, Youth and Families Act.

It was highlighted by the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) in its final report into the Bail Act in January 2007 that children are particularly vulnerable in their dealings with the criminal justice system. Therefore the Greens are of the view that it makes sense when considering bail for children to focus as much as possible on preserving the child's relationship with their family or carers, to not have their living arrangements disturbed, to support the continuing of the child's education or training and to minimise the stigma — all of which this bill addresses by adding child-specific criteria for consideration of bail applications in relation to children and young people.

We also fully support removing children from the offence of breaking a bail condition under clause 16 and providing for the presumption for initiating criminal proceedings against children by way of summons rather than arrest, which responds to concerns put by lawyers and by the Department of Health and Human Services that there are instances where the police should proceed with a matter by way of summons rather than arrest. This presumption to proceed by way of summons will also assist in ensuring that decisions on how criminal proceedings are initiated are more consistent and overcome those concerns that there is sometimes no rhyme or reason to why police will decide to charge in some instances and then use a summons in others, as noted in the VLRC report.

The bill also expands who can grant permission for the publication of the identity of those involved in Children's Court proceedings, from the president of the Children's Court to any Children's Court magistrate, which the Greens also support.

There are further amendments to the Bail Act regarding terrorism, the failure to appear and serious offences. We are involved in an ongoing dialogue with the government and we have some questions regarding those provisions, which I am sure will be addressed in the other place. The Greens understand that the state must do all it can to protect the community from terrorism and ensure that adults and children feel safe, while at the same time upholding its responsibilities to preserve and protect the rights of accused people who are innocent until proven guilty, and ensure that unjust detention does not occur. In that context we will be raising questions regarding those matters in the other place. As I said, the Greens will be supporting this bill in this house.