Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Eroding the right to bail

Not content with moving to eliminate jury trials for most crimes, Justice Minister Simon Power is already mounting another attack on the rights of the accused - this time on the right to bail:

People accused of serious drug charges would face tougher tests to be granted bail under proposals set out by the Government.

Justice Minister Simon Power has just launched a discussion document on reforming the bail system that would include a reverse burden of proof for people charged with serious Class A drug offences, such as those involving P.

A reverse burden would require the defendant to prove to the court that they should be granted bail rather than the prosecution having to show the court why they should be remanded in custody.

Power said the Government was also exploring issues such as whether people accused of murder should lose the right to bail.

The problem with this lies in one word: "accused". People accused of a crime have not yet been found to be guilty. They may in fact be innocent. But Power is proposing throwing them in jail for two years or longer, simply on the basis of a police accusation. And that's just wrong.

Currently our bail laws generally recognise this. Despite National's "tough on crime" changes, bail is still a human right in this country. And this is recognised in section 24 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, which provides that everyone charged with an offence

Shall be released on reasonable terms and conditions unless there is just cause for continued detention
A real risk of non-appearance, reoffending, or interference with the trial process is "just cause". Public outrage at the crime, or a desire to take a tough line against a particular type of offence isn't. Power's proposal would see innocent people imprisoned for prolonged periods of time, losing their jobs, families, and sometimes even lives, with no apology or compensation from the government. It is unjust, it is unfair, and it is just plain wrong.