The Victims of Crime Commissioner welcomes the Government’s intention to review Victoria’s bail laws .
A 2021 Parliamentary Inquiry into Victoria’s criminal justice system found Victoria’s approach to bail was not working. The Inquiry found toughened bail laws are having disproportionate impacts on vulnerable people accused of minor crimes such as women, Aboriginal Victorians, children and young people and people living with a disability, many of whom are victims of crime themselves and have experienced significant trauma and disadvantage.
The Victims of Crime Commissioner believes reforms should ensure bail decision makers are equipped with both the skills and legislative framework necessary to assess and act upon the potential risk an accused person poses to others while also enabling individuals who do not pose a high risk to the community to access social and therapeutic supports to break the cycle of crime.
Bail laws should always operate in a way that prioritises victim and community safety. The law should not disproportionately impact people already experiencing social disadvantage who are accused of minor crimes, unnecessarily rupture their families or their opportunity to access help or rehabilitate.
One of the guiding principles underpinning the Bail Act is the need to maximise the safety of the community and those affected by crime to the greatest extent possible. For this reason, the Victims of Crime Commissioner believes there should be a presumption against bail for individuals who pose a serious risk of harm to victims and the broader community.
The Victims of Crime Commissioner supports bail reforms that:
- provide an enhanced legislative and decision-making framework to assess the risk a person poses to those known to them and the broader community, maintaining a presumption against bail for individuals who pose a serious risk of harm
- prioritise victim participation and safety, including ensuring victims are included, consulted where appropriate, and understand how bail decisions will impact them and their family, with clear victim entitlements under the Victims’ Charter
- enhance capacity for bail decision makers to make evidence-based decisions underpinned by a clear legislative framework and sufficient training, including in relation to gender, culture and disability
- do not disproportionately impact people already experiencing intersecting and compounding social disadvantage and who do not pose a risk to the community
- increase access to therapeutic and rehabilitative options to reduce risks of reoffending.
The Victims of Crime Commissioner also notes the importance of well-functioning and cohesive social, community, health and welfare sectors. It is vital that individuals who do not pose a risk to the community have access to housing, mental health and alcohol and drug supports and that bail is not used as a substitute for social and therapeutic support.
Striking the right balance in bail laws is vital. The Victims of Crime Commissioner believes bail reform requires a careful, considered, and independent process led by the Victorian Law Reform Commission where all interested parties have an opportunity to be heard about how bail reform might impact them, particularly victims of crime.