Legal experts have strongly criticised the NSW government’s decision to toughen bail rules, saying it was a “retrograde step”.
Legal experts have blasted the NSW government’s “knee-jerk” decision to toughen bail laws, saying it violates the basic principle of being presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The government’s overhaul of the bail system in May was met with media outcry that it had made it easier for accused criminals to be freed from prison.
Just five weeks after the new risk-based system came into force, Premier Mike Baird asked former state attorney-general John Hatzistergos to review the new Bail Act.
Mr Baird said on Tuesday he was accepting Mr Hatzistergos’s recommendations to tighten the act.
“The community must have confidence that the justice system is keeping them safe,” Mr Baird told reporters in Sydney.
“The community had concerns on the Bail Act, we had concerns. We listened and we have acted.”
Under the proposed changes, which are modelled on Victorian and Queensland laws, people accused of serious offences will have to “show cause” why they should be given bail.
The list of those serious offences where the onus of proof will be reversed to the accused offender includes the sexual assault of a child under the age of 16 years by an adult, and offences that carry a maximum penalty of life in jail.
Pauline Wright, from the Law Society of NSW, said reversing the onus of proof was “most concerning”.
“Sometimes people accused of crimes are innocent and the courts do acquit quite regularly,” she told AAP.
“That’s something that we forget with sensationalist headlines.”
She accused the government of launching a “knee-jerk” review into the act without giving it enough time to be tested.
NSW Bar Association president Jane Needham SC said the proposed changes would be a “retrograde step” that had the potential to threaten fundamental legal rights.
“The changes will see a return to the restrictive and unfair system under the old laws, and undermine the basic principle of our criminal justice system – the presumption of innocence,” she said, pointing out that nearly half of all people who are charged are ultimately acquitted.
Former NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery said the government should have given its new bail rules “at least a year” before it reviewed it.