The Vexed Question of Bail

A Step Forward

Every so often the justice system in New Zealand takes small steps forward.  We welcome the announcement that in cases of domestic violence judges will be able to rule on whether to grant bail to an accused in the light of his or her previous criminal record.  Unfortunately this is just a pilot programme at this stage, operating only in Christchurch and Porirua.  Let’s hope it is extended to the whole country.

A second unfortunate restriction is that it is being applied only in domestic violence cases.  However, it is a step in the right direction.

Justice Minister Amy Adams on Wednesday announced the pilot programme to take effect next week in which judges would receive reports of all recorded family violence incidents for defendants including police safety orders or protection orders and breaches.  The programme aims to protect victims well known to offenders in domestic violence cases from further harm.

“Judges raised with me that they felt very unconformable making bail decisions and then finding out after the event that actually the person who they made the decision for potentially had a much greater history than they were aware of,” Adams said.  Until now, Adams said the process was “sporadic” and it was up to the police prosecutor to put relevant information before a judge. If police decided not to oppose bail sometimes that information was not provided.

“Giving judges a clear picture of a defendant’s previous pattern of family violence offending when they are making bail decisions is another way to help protect victims from further harm,” she said.  “We think it’s important the system automatically ensures that information is in front of the judges without having to rely on the police prosecutors.” [Stuff]

If the record of a judge is made aware of a violent criminal history and yet is granted bail, and if the defendant commits more crime whilst on bail, the judge is liable.  Not to the justice system, but certainly to God, whose servant the judge is, and whose justice grinds exceedingly fine.  We believe that those “soft” judges, who are everywhere in our justice system, would be systematically exposed if they granted bail despite being informed of an accused’s notorious criminal history.  Most of these soft judges care more about their reputation in the eyes of their colleagues than anything else.  Sunlight would, therefore, be a powerful deterrent.

That in itself would be a salutary outcome–let alone the added contribution to community safety. 
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