SPEAKING ON A BILL | BAIL AMENDMENT (STAGE TWO) BILL 2017
Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan): I also rise to speak on the Bail Amendment (Stage Two) Bill 2017. As previous speakers have touched on, the bill strengthens the Bail Act 1977 by clarifying and strengthening the bail decision-making process with an emphasis on community safety. It is of course in response to a recent event. Amendments were introduced by the Bail Amendment (Stage One) Act 2017, and this bill will be a supplementary bill to the previous amendments that were introduced last year.
To summarise the bill, the bill will reformulate and clarify how the test of bail should be applied, and that relates to recommendations 2, 3 and 5 of the Coghlan review. It introduces a police remand system to enable police to remand an adult accused until a court is available. That is another issue we had in recent times in relation to the bail justice system about whether a person could be retained in police custody until such a time as a court, a judge or a magistrate is available to hear the matter and their bail application. This will introduce some flexibility that the police can actually hold the person for an appropriate time, and normally it is a matter of the next day.
The bill also requires a person accused of certain serious offences, other than a child, Aboriginal person or vulnerable adult, who is already on two undertakings of bail for indictable offences to be brought before a court in relation to any bail decision. That relates to recommendation 15 of the Coghlan review. The bill also provides an express power for a court to bail or remand a person appearing on summons, which relates to recommendation 33. The bill also makes other minor and technical amendments to the current Bail Act.
I will briefly touch on the Coghlan review. The first report was provided to the government on 3 April 2017 and focused on the practical measures of reform. I have talked about the first tranche of legislation, which was introduced in 2017. This is the supplementary bill to further implement the review’s recommendations. My understanding is that further work will be done in this space in the not-too-distant future. There will be further changes happening, and a lot of them will be administrative changes.
The report included a recommendation which changed the test for granting bail to express the test more clearly and emphasise the importance of assessing an accused person’s risk. There has been a lot of debate in recent times about how much attention and emphasis a magistrate or bail justice gives to community risk, because at the end of the day whatever we do with our law enforcement and judicial system — and this includes us as legislators — we always have to be mindful of community risk. The bill is making sure that we do not put the community at risk particularly when we could have offenders who are likely to be granted bail but are at a high risk of offending again and perhaps committing further offences. Therefore now we have given an emphasis that a bail justice or magistrate has to take that into consideration. In my view the main consideration should be whether or not granting bail to someone could put the community at risk. I think that is a very welcome change, and I am looking forward to this bill passing and becoming law.
Would this legislation have prevented the tragedy of Bourke Street? The answer to that is that no-one can guarantee that that will not occur again. Will this legislation minimise or be likely to assist in minimising the likelihood of that occurring? I think it will. But no-one obviously can give a guarantee that it will not happen again. We are learning from the tragedy of Bourke Street, and that is why these amendments are being put in place. There has also been a lot of fear in the community in relation to repeat offenders, so the new amendments will give comfort and give more tools to Victoria Police and the judicial system to apply a much more rigid system to minimise the risk of repeat offenders coming back, whether it is home invasion or any offence, because this will apply to all offences. The legislation does not apply to a specific offence; it applies to all offences, which is a very welcome change.
The bill also clarifies the powers of Victoria Police and, as I said, the powers of bail justices and the courts to grant bail. These recommendations are now going to become law. There have been some questions about whether the current role of bail justices will continue as a result of this legislation. The answer to that, from my reading of the legislation, is that there will not be any changes. There will be an ongoing role for bail justices under this legislation, which to me is good news, because I think they do a very good job and give their own time to provide a service to the community. I want to commend them on the work they do. I know there is a particular section of the community — political parties — that has criticised bail justices in the last 12 to 18 months, which I think is unjustified. They should be commended on the work they do.
The bill also makes changes to police remand. The reform in this bill will give senior police officers the power to remand an accused without the accused being able to make further application for bail to a bail justice. Instead the accused will remain on remand until a court is available to hear his or her bail application. Again that responds to some events we have had in the last 12 to 18 months when persons were given bail by a bail justice and the police were not happy with that decision but did not have the ability to keep a person in custody. A senior police officer will be able to make the call — overnight, after hours or at whatever time — to keep that person in custody until a court or a judge is available to hear his or her matter. I think that is a very welcome change to the current legislation to give that flexibility to the police to actually be able to remand an accused person until a judge is available to hear the matter.
There are obviously restrictions on how long a person can be remanded in custody. An accused will be required to be brought before a court as soon as practicable. If the police consider that it will be impracticable to bring the accused before a court before the expiration of 48 hours, then the accused will be able to seek bail from a bail justice. The time limit of 48 hours ensures that an accused person is not detained for an unnecessarily long time before a bail decision is finalised. I think that is very important. Normally that 48 hours would cover something that happened on a Friday night. By Monday morning it should be possible to get a person before a magistrate to determine whether the person should be given bail or not. Obviously we need to be very careful not to have it open-ended where someone could be remanded in custody for an indefinite period of time. We are not in a police state. The purpose of that 48 hours is to give enough flexibility for Victoria Police members to do their job and basically make a judgement. When they believe that an accused could present some risk to the community, they will be able to remand that person for a maximum of 48 hours. That will be sufficient time to bring that person before a court.
As I mentioned earlier, the bill, combined with the stage 1 bill, implements all the recommendations of Mr Coghlan in his first report as well as recommendation 33 in the second report. The remaining recommendations in the second report are longer term recommendations that Mr Coghlan envisages will be subject to further consultation before implementation. As I said earlier also, these amendments will apply to all offenders, adults and children, so there will not be any distinction.
There has been some debate in relation to whether the operative date should be 1 July 2018 versus 30 March 2018, which I think is in the amendments foreshadowed by the opposition. My understanding is that the people in charge of our justice system would require a bit of time to be able to put all these things into effect. The time frame, to my understanding, is around three months. Therefore bringing the operative date forward to 30 March might not be practicable for our law enforcement people who need to be able to get themselves ready to implement the changes. My understanding is that the advice given to the Attorney-General is that three months is the period required for law enforcement agencies and people in the justice system to be able to implement successfully the new bill and recommendations in the Coghlan report. That will give the authorities a bit of time to implement the changes without any duress.
Just to conclude, this is a very important bill that gives effect to the Coghlan report and responds to community concerns which have been raised with us in the last year or two, particularly about recent events, whether they are home invasions or the Bourke Street tragedy. They are very important changes to our bail law and they should give comfort to our citizens that the system now is designed to look after them and will look after them.
I urge the opposition, the Greens party and the crossbenchers to endorse the amendments in the bill as presented and vote against the amendments that will be moved by the opposition, one of which is to bring the operative date forward to 30 March. As I said, it is not practical. I think we need three months, and 1 July should give enough time to our authorities to make sure that they are able to implement the changes. With those comments, I conclude my remarks and commend the bill to the house.
Business interrupted pursuant to sessional orders.
22 February 2018