Attorney-General Backs Judges' Ability To Determine Bail Issues

  • Paul East

Attorney-General Paul East said today that he had every confidence in the ability of judges to exercise their powers to grant bail, based on all the information presented to them at the time.

Mr East was responding to recent criticism of judges granting bail to defendants who have subsequently re-offended while on bail.

He said the granting of bail was often a difficult issue and judges always exercised great care when considering applications.

"In deciding whether or not to grant bail, judges take into account information presented to them at the time of application. For example, information about previous convictions may influence their decision on whether or not a defendant is thought likely to re-offend. Also, information about the personal circumstances of the defendant may have a bearing on whether a remand in custody is appropriate. A judge's decision on the question of bail is, to a large extent, dependent on the nature of the information made available about the defendant.

"In New Zealand we do not incarcerate people, who are entitled to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, unless there are good reasons for doing so. In fact the Bill of Rights Act says that everyone who is charged with an offence must be released on reasonable terms and conditions unless there is just cause for their continued detention.

"At the same time judges must consider the protection of the public if a person is to be released on bail. If the courts recognise that some people who are charged may pose a threat to the community, bail can be granted subject to strict conditions such as reporting daily to the police and not associating with the complainant. If a person is thought to be in breach of any of these conditions that person can be brought back before the court and the judge can review the granting of bail.

"Another factor which judges have to take into account when considering bail is the length of time that can occur between the arrest of an offender and their appearance in court for trial.

"It is worth noting that the Government has already amended the law to tighten eligibility for bail and to provide the police with a right of appeal against the granting of bail. Consideration will be given to whether a further right of appeal is required.

"Clearly the matters our judges must take into consideration are by no means as straightforward as some critics might suggest. The public should remain confident that New Zealand is extremely well served by a judiciary of the highest quality," Mr East concluded.