A requirement that the police and the court must explicitly consider a person’s Indigenous status when making decisions in regards to bail and sentencing would help address the systemic failures highlighted today by Coroner Simon McGregor’s investigation into the death of Indigenous woman, Veronica Nelson.
The Victorian government should also establish therapeutic short-term housing options for individuals who are denied bail for alleged low-level offending or who do not have a suitable bail address.
“We must find a way to ensure the police and the courts make specific reference to someone’s Indigenous status when making decisions about bail and sentencing,” said spokesperson for the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA), Greg Barns SC. “The bail laws must be completely overhauled and we need bold changes to address the scale of injustice that we are seeing.
“The law in Victoria permits culture to be considered when the court is making decisions about bail but we must do more to ensure this is explicitly and directly considered both in determining whether bail is granted, but also in sentencing. This may require further legislative change but it will also require education and commitment from the police and the courts.”
In addition, the ALA is recommending the establishment of a short-term therapeutic housing system for individuals who do not have stable accommodation, a suitable bail address, or who are facing the courts for less serious offending.
“Too often bail is denied to a person in Victoria because they do not have somewhere to live or who provide a bail address that is not suitable,” said Mr Barns SC. “There are also many cases where individuals with a prior history of breach of bail are facing the court for less serious offences.They need accommodation support and therapeutic services while they wait for their case to be heard rather than being warehoused in a dangerous prison environment.
“Back in 2017 the ALA warned that the proposed changes to bail laws would be harmful and unfortunately that has proven to be the case. As the coroner highlighted today this harm has disproportionately impacted First Nations people and the results are tragic.
“Indigenous Australians are overrepresented on remand and we know that they experience unique disadvantages in their contact with the criminal justice system. As a result, we must make changes that acknowledge and rectify this discrimination.”