Bail amendment welcomed by Tamworth civic leaders

POLITICIANS and councillors have welcomed changes to the state’s Bail Act announced this week but the local branch of the police association has concerns about how much power the reforms will leave police.

Under the reforms, to be rolled out in 2014, the presumption for or against bail will be abolished and replaced with a new risk assessment system, under the first major overhaul of the Bail Act in 34 years.

Under changes to be introduced to Parliament next year, police, magistrates and judges will be asked to decide if the accused poses a risk to safety, of committing an offence, interfering with a witness or failing to appear in court when considering bail.

The reforms will replace the current system of presumption for or against bail, where decisions are made based on the type of offence.

Tamworth Police Association branch chairman Barry McMahon said his initial reaction was concern.

He said it appeared the changes might revoke the ability of police to impose specific bail conditions on an offender between their arrest and their appearance in court. 

“If that’s the case we see a problem, because often there can be a three-week lag between when a person is arrested and charged and their court date,” he said. 

“It’s my understanding that under the reforms only the magistrate will be able to impose those kind of conditions.”

Mr McMahon said it was early days yet and he was looking forward to being able to read more about the changes.

Meanwhile, Tamworth mayor Col Murray is pleased the reforms were announced and said they were a direct result of the city’s crime law and order meetings.

“They are a direct response to the calls the community made for change at both of the meetings and through the 18,000-signature petition,” Cr Murray said.

“It’s proof that while progress might be a bit steady there are things happening behind closed doors to make the process better.”

Cr Murray said the reforms served as some encouragement that if pressure was kept on the issue of fighting crime and seeking reform for law and order there could be more results. 

Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson welcomed the amendment, and in particular a section that relates to enforcement conditions.

He believed the reforms were a way of giving police the tools and resources they needed to fight crime. 

“If the magistrate applies a condition of bail, the accused should adhere to that condition,” he said.

“If the conditions of bail are breached the accused should be brought back before the court, have bail refused and then be incarcerated.”

Announcing the changes on Wednesday, Premier O’Farrell said the system of presumptions often led to decisions that “sometimes don’t make sense”.

“(The Bail Act) has become more and more complex – like the rest of the community, I struggle at times, I question why decisions are being made to release people on bail,” Mr O’Farrell said.

“This provides consistency, it provides simplicity, it will be reviewed after three years and I think it lands exactly where it should – whether there is a risk to the community.”

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