There’s a petition under way to demand a toughening of our bail laws.
This is timely, because it has been a long time since we last had a debate on our bail laws—at least a couple of weeks.
Proponents of “Christie’s Law” want to make it harder for people presumed innocent to get bail. If they’ve got a history of violent crime or are charged with a violent offence punishable by more than two years’ imprisonment, bail would be automatically denied. Police would also have the right to veto a judge’s decision to grant bail, and judges would be reviewed on their performance and could be sacked if they were not protecting the public.
I am appalled by this series of proposals. What have we come to as a society when this is the best we can do to address violence in the community?
Why are these measures so weak?
If Christie’s Law were to become actual law, offenders would still be freed by judges, and some of these people would go on to do bad things, like commit robberies, park illegally, and join trade unions. If you allow any sort of bail system to exist then people on bail will occasionally do bad things.
The Sensible Sentencing Trust have said that bail needs to be regarded as a privilege, not a right. But demanding a reversal of the presumption of innocence isn’t the answer, because even presuming someone is guilty until proven otherwise would allow some weasel lawyers to get their despicable clients of the hook.
The problem is not that the threshold for granting bail is too low, but that we are letting people out on bail at all. If we simply incarcerated anyone who looked like they might one day cause trouble (and we may as well include feminists, environmentalists and Hone Harawira in this category) we would see a marked reduction in the number of offences committed while people were out on bail.
Christie’s Law is a weak attempt to deal with the problem of people being unpredictable and doing bad things despite the best efforts of judges. It’s no use just criticising someone else’s effort to deal with the problem , so I have drafted my own set of proposals, modestly entitled “Frank’s Law”. Here are the highlights:
- Bail won’t be granted for anything punishable by imprisonment. Ever.
- Everything will be punishable by imprisonment.
- Offenders can be kept locked up indefinitely if the talkback community deem them too dangerous to release.
- Judges will be given performance bonuses every time they throw someone in the slammer. This might encourage some judges to throw the book at people who don’t deserve to go down, but if we want justice for victims of crime we just have to accept the need for occasional multiple injustices.
- The police veto rights proposed under Christie’s Law will be expanded gradually, so that the court system can be gradually phased out. The cost savings will mean we all pay less in taxes!
- We won’t need to build more prisons to accommodate the vastly expanded prison population. They will just have to squeeze more inmates into the existing facilities. If this means prisoners end up sleeping five to a cell then it serves them right. Maybe if they hadn’t been caught joining a union, reading the Koran or walking on my front lawn they wouldn’t be locked up in the first place.