Statement on bail law reforms

April 14, 2023 |

The Federation welcomes the Victorian Government's commitment to overhauling Victoria's bail laws, and urges for the legislation of Poccum's Law.

On 2 January 2020, Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman Veronica Nelson died in custody while on remand for a minor, non-violent offence. This tragic miscarriage of justice triggered a Coronial Inquest and subsequently, a commitment from the Victorian Government to reform the state’s bail laws.

The Federation welcomes a commitment to overhauling Victoria’s bail laws.

Under the current bail laws, which were tightened in 2018, the number of incarcerated Victorians has risen, despite a fall in the rate of crime. The impact of these changes has fallen disproportionately on people experiencing disadvantage and First Nations people, and particularly First Nations women. There are currently more women in prison on remand than those who have been sentenced.

For many women, being remanded in custody results in the removal of children, with severe and long-lasting consequences on women, children and their families.

The findings of Coroner Simon McGregor’s inquest ruled that Veronica was cruelly treated in custody, and that her death was preventable. The Coroner also affirmed the significant disproportionate impact that bail laws have on First Nations people.

By reforming bail laws, we have an opportunity not only to establish a fairer system for all, but to reduce the rate of reoffending and the number of unsentenced people in custody.

Poccum’s Law is a blueprint for the critical reforms to bail laws that Veronica’s family is campaigning to implement. Supported by Community Legal Centres  and human rights organisations across Victoria, Poccum’s Law is a roadmap for reform that we urge the Victorian Government to legislate.

The proposed reforms include:

  1. The removal of presumption against bail
  2. Granting access to bail unless the prosecution shows that there is a specific and immediate risk to the safety of another person, a serious risk of interfering with a witness, or a demonstrable risk that the person will flee the jurisdiction
  3. Ensuring that a person cannot be remanded for an offence that is unlikely to result in a sentence of imprisonment
  4. Removing all bail offences (committing an indictable offence while on bail, breaching bail conditions and failure to answer bail). This would end the penalisation of vulnerable people who are less likely to meet bail requirements

The Federation would like to thank Veronica’s family for bringing bail reform to the fore, and for the organisations supporting Poccum’s Law and advocating for fairer bail laws, including VALS, Djirra, Fitzroy Legal Service, Human Rights Law Centre, Inner Melbourne Community Legal, Justice Connect, Law and Advocacy Centre for Women, WEstjustice and Youthlaw.

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