Police fight bail law softening as welfare groups back review

POLICE yesterday urged the NSW government to oppose recommendations to relax the state’s tough bail laws.

But community groups broadly welcomed the changes recommended in the Law Reform Commission’s review of the NSW Bail Act. They include reversing the presumption against bail for all offences unless the person’s release would threaten the safety of others or if there was a risk they would not turn up to court.

The opposition from police is likely to fuel tensions within cabinet as it debates the recommendations. The Attorney-General, Greg Smith, will need to persuade colleagues including the Police Minister, Mike Gallacher, to agree to the changes.

The NSW Police Association president, Scott Weber, said strong bail laws helped police cut crime and urged the government not to reverse presumptions against bail yesterday.

”We can’t afford to see watered down community protections,” Mr Weber said.

”Softening those laws to allow persons accused of serious and violent crimes to be released on bail would be a big step in the wrong direction.

”Victim and community protection, as well as ensuring the accused’s appearance at court, should be paramount. Giving an accused a get-out-of-jail-free card is not the answer.”

The chief executive of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Edward Santow, said the Bail Act was overly complex and harsh on vulnerable people.

”Some of its harshest aspects don’t even reduce crime,” he said. ”If implemented, the commission’s recommendations will simplify the NSW law on bail, making it fairer, more consistent and better suited for the whole community.

”For example, one of our homeless clients was charged with minor drug offences. His bail conditions said he couldn’t go within 1000 metres of Kings Cross. But this meant he couldn’t access his support services, counselling, his doctor or methadone clinic.”

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