The NSW/ACT Aboriginal Legal Service has labelled the NSW Government “short-sighted and reactive” over reforms to the states legal system, warning new requirements for offenders offering guilty pleas to be refused bail will disproportionately affect Indigenous people.
The amendments to the Bail Act passed through both chambers of the NSW Parliament within 48 hours with bipartisan support last week.
Along with reforms imposing minimum standards on electronic monitoring, the changes will see offenders convicted or entering guilty pleas held in remand in the period before sentencing for any offence deemed to garner imprisonment, outside of exceptional circumstances.
According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research in 2021, 30 percent of all adults, and 50 percent of all young people refused bail at first court appearance were Aboriginal.
NSW/ACT ALS chief executive Karly Warner said the move was a “one-size-fits-all approach” which would see courts make decisions without adequate information.
“It is unclear how a determination is to be made that an offender will be sentenced to full-time detention before sentencing occurs,” sher said.
“It is common for people to wait several months between entering a plea and being sentenced.
“The law is a blunt tool.”
NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman said urgent action was required to address serious issues with the Act.
He said several stakeholders, including NSW police, Corrective Services NSW and heads of local, district and supreme courts were involved.
“Great care was taken to consider stakeholders’ input,” Mr Speakman said.
“This included answering some stakeholders’ queries about whether the reforms would increase the remand population and the government’s early appropriate guilty plea reforms or impact vulnerable people, including Aboriginal people.”
Ms Warner said the reform would impact diversion programs, overload the courts, overcrowd prisons and delay early pleas.
Speaking on behalf of Mr Speakman in parliament, Nationals MP Melinda Pavey said the government would ensure concessions applied to early guilty pleas would not be impacted.
“If a person pleads guilty under the early appropriate guilty plea scheme, they will already have a very good idea of the type of sentence they can expect to receive,” she said.
NSW/ACT ALS principal legal officer Nadine Miles said she was disappointed with the reforms.
“You can’t pass laws that will trap Aboriginal people and fail to consult with the Aboriginal Legal Service and community-controlled sector, yet say you are committed to Closing the Gap,” she said.
“The bottom line is this: more Aboriginal people will spend time behind bars.
“We are urging the NSW Government to recommit to their Closing the Gap promise of meaningful consultation and partnership.”
The Bail Amendment Act 2022 was assented on Monday, June 27.