Phil Goff Speech - 3rd Reading of Bail Bill
Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice
4 October 2000
3rd Reading of Bail Bill
Mr Speaker, I move that the Bail Bill be now read a third time. The debate in the House tonight marks the final step in the passage of this legislation, and a further outcome of the Government’s programme to honour its election policy commitments on law and order.
This Bill was introduced last year, but the need for bail law reform has been obvious for much longer.
The Ministry of Justice has conducted research into offending while on bail in each of the years from 1993 to 1997. Overall, in 1997, 22% of those released on bail were caught and convicted for offences committed while on bail. That is only those who were caught and convicted.
But there is an identifiable sub-group, a hard core of serious repeat offenders, who simply regard bail as a licence to carry on offending. We are talking about the habitually violent or the career burglar, who will be arrested and remanded in the afternoon and ‘knock over’ three houses on the way home for tea.
This identifiable hard core consists of offenders who have already been sent to prison 14 or more times. They are caught offending on bail 43% of the time. When only around 1 in 9 burglaries is ever pinned to an offender, it is clear that the real rate of offending for these people is much higher – perhaps as high as 90%.
In addition to the statistics, there are the horrific cases which gained media notoriety because of the role bail decisions, which in hindsight can be seen to be poor decisions, have played. Names like Philip John Smith and Hayden Joseph Taylor, convicted murderers. Kevin Michael Chadwick, who bashed and raped an elderly woman – these offenders committed their crimes while on bail for offending which, in hindsight, seems clearly to indicate where their offending was leading.
Bail law reform is an issue on which the Labour Party has stood consistently for at least the last two elections. This Bill was itself motivated by a member's bill I introduced while Opposition Justice spokesperson.
This Bill codifies and consolidates bail laws into one statute. Presently bail laws are scattered across no fewer than 7 separate statutes, as well as a host of case law.
In addition, information about offending while on bail or breaching bail conditions will now be recorded so that it is available to judges at future hearings.
This consolidation and improvement of the information available will improve the ability of Police, lawyers, and the judiciary to ensure the right decisions are made.
As an Opposition member I welcomed the introduction of this Bill. It had been nearly 9 years coming under the previous Government. But I made the criticism that it did not go far enough in tightening bail for the worst offenders.
I am pleased to say that the significant changes, made by the Government, to redress this failing were agreed to by the House yesterday, and will tonight be enacted into law.
Let me outline what these changes are.
The Bill as introduced by the previous Government would have established a reverse onus of persuasion for a small number of serious offenders who, while on bail for one serious offence, are then arrested and charged with another serious offence.
The reversal of onus means that, rather than the police having to persuade a judge that bail shouldn’t be granted, these offenders will have to demonstrate to the Court a good reason why they should be trusted on bail. Given their track records they will find this no easy task.
This provision would have taken approximately 100 serious offenders out of circulation through denied bail, on a daily remand population basis.
However, it was Labour’s view that this did not go far enough, for two main reasons.
The first is that the definition of serious offences as proposed by the last Government did not include serious property offences such as burglary. That meant the career burglars would not be affected. On my instigation, shortly before the last election, the then-Justice and Law Reform Select Committee agreed to address this short-coming by inserting serious property offences into this part of the Bill.
However, the more important failing of the Bill as introduced was that it did nothing to specifically address the offending while on bail of the identifiable hard core – those offending at a rate as high as 90% - and nothing to specifically take account of histories of serious offending.
The Labour-Alliance Government has addressed this by extending the reversed onus to also apply to those charged with a serious offence who have a substantial list of previous custodial sentences, and who have a history of serious offending while on bail. The threshold has been set at 14 previous custodial sentences. These figures have not simply been plucked out of the air – they are the criteria which define the hard core of offenders identified by justice statistics as posing a significant risk.
They are also criteria which honour Labour’s pre-election manifesto commitments.
This change represents a significant toughening of the Bill from that introduced by the previous Government. Under the National Party’s proposals, 100 offenders would have been taken out of circulation. Under the Labour-Alliance Government’s changes, which we are enacting today, 260 offenders will be remanded into custody at any one time, affecting over 2000 hard core offenders each year.
But this is not a change that is made lightly. Imprisonment is a costly option and must be reserved for those who pose a real and genuine threat to public safety and security. The measures we are introducing today will cost around $30 million in capital costs and more than $5 million per year in ongoing costs. They are costs the previous Government was not prepared to meet. This Government recognises that they are costs which must be borne for the sake of public safety.
The change does not go as far as the supplementary order paper which I proposed late last year, which had set the threshold for the reversed onus lower. I was advised that the earlier proposal was too wide-sweeping and consequently breached the Bill of Rights. Opposition members such as Mr Ryall should be well aware of that since they spent most of last year arguing against any toughening of their Bill whatsoever.
The threshold as it has now been targeted does not breach the Bill of Rights – it will still affect more than 2000 hard core offenders every year. This hard core have proven through their actions that the balance of justice in their cases must swing back in favour of protecting the public.
It had been my hope that we might also have been enacting today provisions that would allow some of the offenders covered by the new regime to be bailed into home detention.
It seems to me that the public could be protected from some offenders, such as repeat burglars, by having those offenders confined to their homes until their trial, rather than detained in more costly prisons.
However, I accept that the Corrections Department has not yet fully bedded in the home detention system to cope with the additional changes and expansion that would be necessary to apply it to bail remandees.
The Minister of Corrections and I have agreed that it is desirable for home detention to be considered for use in bail cases, after further study. This will be the subject of separate legislation.
In the meantime more people will go to jail than would otherwise have been the case, if home detention was available.
Mr Speaker, bail reform is an issue on which I have been campaigning since at least 1994. It gives me real satisfaction to finally be able to take some action on this issue.
This Bill represents a significant toughening of bail laws. It will take a hard core of around 260 serious offenders out of circulation on a daily basis.
The inclusion by the Government of serious property offences in the category which attracts tougher bail provisions delivers on our pre-election commitment to cracking down on burglary. A tougher stance on the bailing of recidivist property offenders is consistent with the core commitment that this Government made in the election campaign.
I commend this Bill to the House.