By Michael Giles
THERE’S no doubt that concern about law and order is the number one issue in Victoria today and news that the State Government is dramatically increasing the number of cops on the beat while beefing up bail laws will provide some comfort.
In the wake of the senseless incident in Melbourne last week, the government has announced that it will establish a Night Court for magistrates to hear bail requests over weekends and after hours as part of a major shake-up of Victoria’s bail system.
Under the changes, the government will ensure magistrates are available after hours to consider bail applications for people charged with violent offences where police oppose bail.
The Government has also asked for advice on a range of matters, including the appropriateness of the current tests when applying for bail of exceptional circumstances, show cause and unacceptable risk.
Meanwhile the government has already doubled the sentences for people who fail to appear on bail and there is now a presumption against bail if the accused is charged with aggravated carjacking, home invasion or aggravated home invasion.
That’s good, but as we saw in the Korumburra Court last week, there’s a deeper issue here, that will not be solved with mandatory penalties, harsher bail conditions and more police on the beat.
There’s a serious, complex and under-resourced problem with mental health in the community, and you can add into that those addicted to illicit drugs and alcohol.
There’s precious little support in the Bass Coast/South Gippsland area for those suffering with mental health issues, and we’re constantly seeing the impact of that.
At the Korumburra Magistrates’ Court last week, a local resident up on traffic charges threatened to kill herself several times if the magistrate applied the mandatory penalty of six months loss of licence.
The accused person, who lives in a remote location, said his/her life would be over anyway if he/she couldn’t drive the car.
Predictably, the person left the court in a distraught state after the magistrate applied the required six-month penalty when really, that person appeared to need serious psychological help.
Finally, on the issue of magistrates granting bail, in my experience, the community can be confident that the magistrates are doing the right thing. That’s not to say there won’t be problems later.
From a risk averse point of view, police are always going to err on the side of caution and oppose bail and it’s up to magistrates to decide, on the balance of evidence, if bail is warranted. I’d say they are getting it right.
And if they locked everyone up, where police opposed bail, there wouldn’t be enough cells to keep them in.