Updated Edition: Contemporary Issues in QLD Bail Legislation
Queensland: Knee-jerk reactions to law reform
Due to the changing nature of online platforms as a direct outcome of advancements in technology and increased media influence, coverage on bail has also been impacted. The public sphere is evolving as journalists can engage larger audiences and inform the opinions of the general public on a more rapid basis. This has recently created a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ to reform bail laws in response to the majority public voice in Queensland. New proposed law reforms controversially dismiss the presumption of innocence and its framework, in place of a new strategy to specifically deal with recidivist offenders out on bail.
The media has been reporting tirelessly on Queensland’s youth bail laws as a result of a series of deaths caused by car thieves who were recidivist teenage offenders. Most recently, the deaths of two pedestrians named Katherine Leadbetter and Matthew Field and their unborn child who were hit by a stolen car driven by a teenager on bail caused great public outrage. The reform of bail laws is being considered to control the whereabouts of juvenile offenders awaiting trial. As a result of the most recent tragedy, 16- and 17-year-old teenagers will be released on bail wearing GPS tracking devices and parents must confirm they will support their child while they are out on bail. This is not the first time a controversial technological solution has been brought to the table as Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson in 2018 considered tracking devices as an ‘alternative to detention’. Ms Palaszczuk, the QLD Premier, has been under mounting pressure to control crime and respond to public fears, as residents in the South-East area have even resorted to contracting private security firms to patrol the streets.
Presumption of Bail
Most significantly, the removal of the ‘presumption of bail’ has been a strong option currently being passionately debated within the Queensland parliament. The ‘presumption of bail’ dictates that bail should be granted unless a good reason exists to refuse it. The introduction of the ‘show cause offence’ in NSW has already rejected the presumption of bail. In new QLD legislation, ‘courts will be empowered to require repeated offenders to give reasons why they should have bail instead of requiring prosecutors to prove why they should not’. Teenage offenders who have been charged with serious indictable offences will also be stripped of the presumption of bail. Introducing this change would increasingly dismiss the presumption of innocence as it will be harder to be released on bail. This could result in the condemnation of individuals who have yet to be charged.
Is it right to facilitate this law reform and create a tougher bail process?
Many do not think so. The Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence has stated that ‘it’s a small, hardcore group of repeat young offenders that are responsible for 44 per cent of all youth crime’. Specifically, a group made up of 10% of these young recidivist offenders are responsible for almost half of the crime taking place. Contrastingly, 85% of young people who do offend will not have further interaction with the criminal justice system in their lifetime. Due to the high rates of crime occurring within one specific group, it presents the question that the solution is not to remove the presumption of bail but rather implement stronger strategies targeted at the re-offending 10%. Barrister Damien Atkinson QC who is chair of the Youth Advocacy Centre, stated that an ‘advisory group’ should be established. He wants to achieve three objectives which include; ensuring a child is in secure housing once they are released on bail, ensuring they are able to participate in programs to combat mental health and drug addiction issues, as well as bringing in stricter supervision of these children. He believes that potentially exposing more juveniles to the criminal justice system will have a negative impact on their future and their health. Further, the opposition party wants to fight for ‘breach of bail’ changes to ensure a ‘long-term effect’.
The bail process is built on rule of law principles such as the presumption of innocence and right to liberty within our legal system. The primary concerns should include the safety of the community and ensuring the accused will be present for their trial, and does not serve any other purpose such as punishing the accused. The debate surrounding QLD law reform does not adequately promise positive long-term change and seems to be a rash reaction to public pressure and outrage due to the crimes committed by recidivist teen offenders. A balanced approach is required before forfeiting age-old principles such as the presumption of innocence. The new laws must ensure they uphold rule of law principles to always uphold the importance of equality in our society.