‘Electronic bail’ to keep accused out of prison

Sydney Morning Herald
October 14, 2010

PEOPLE who have been charged with a crime but not yet tried or convicted could be granted bail and monitored electronically under a proposal to take the sting out of the debate over bail laws.

”E-bail” or ”e-remand” has been an effective alternative to locking up the unconvicted in the US, Britain and Canada.

It can protect the community while avoiding the social and financial costs of jail, according to an internal state government review of bail laws.

The government will gauge community reaction to the idea. The shadow attorney-general, Greg Smith, said he supported the idea in principle.

The government review recommended rewriting bail laws without making significant changes to who qualifies for bail.

The Bail Act is causing confusion among defendants, lawyers and judges because of 16 ad hoc amendments over 25 years, usually made in response to high-profile crimes, the review says.

Bail laws have also sent record numbers of people – especially juveniles – to jail without being convicted of an offence, it says. About one-quarter of NSW prisoners are on remand, which is twice the number of any other state. About 30 per cent of these people are later acquitted, leading to calls from civil libertarians and lawyers for changes.

Asked whether the changes would make it easier or more difficult to get bail, a spokesman for the Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, said they should ”make applying for bail simpler”.

But the retired magistrate Max Taylor, the convener of the Bail Reform Alliance, said the government had missed a chance to remedy the Bail Act.

”What is needed is the restoration of the presumption in favour of bail for all offences. Courts should be left to get on with deciding bail on traditional liberal democratic criteria,” he said.

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