Friday, February 22, 2008

Bail is a human right

The man accused of murdering a teenage tagger has been bailed, causing the usual outcry over how he "should be stuck back in a jail cell". I'm constantly appalled by demands like this from people who let their anger at an offence overcome basic considerations of justice. As I've pointed out before, bail is a human right in this country. According to s24 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, everyone charged with an offence must be "released on reasonable terms and conditions unless there is just cause for continued detention". The only reasons for continuing to detain someone are a risk of non-appearance, a risk that they will offend further while on bail, or a risk that they will interfere with witnesses - none of which seems even remotely likely in this case.

This is as it should be. People are innocent until proven guilty, and it is unfair that they should be punished by a potentially long period of imprisonment (it can take up to two years for a case to come to trial) before the case has been proved. What the opponents of bail are demanding is that people effectively be punished without trial, merely on the suspicion of an offence. This runs contrary to all standards of justice. They would not accept such treatment if they or their loved ones were accused of an offence, and they should not demand that others be abused in this fashion.