Saturday, 10 November 2012

More Teenagers Behind Bars, But Are We Any Safer?

As a result of one insane teenager killing a complainant while on bail, the Sensible Sentencing Tust has successfully lobbied the Justice and Law Reform Select Committee to tighten our bail laws. There will be an expansion of the  reverse onus imposed in relation to certain classes of crimes and the presumption of liberty (and innocence) get's short shrift. 
As the New Zealand Herald reported yesterday (10 November 2012):
 "A bill tightening bail laws for killers and repeat offenders is being toughened by making it harder for 18- and 19-year-olds to avoid custody.
Sweeping changes to bail legislation which were designed to prevent violent or sexual offenders reoffending while on bail have been approved by a parliamentary committee.
If it becomes law, the bill will mark a fundamental shift in legal principles by reversing the onus of proof for alleged offenders." ....
Under present law, the Crown must show why defendants should be locked up.
The introduction of the bill coincided with the launch of a movement called "Christie's Law".
It wants tighter bail laws after the murder of North Shore teenager Christie Marceau at the hands of 19-year-old Akshay Chand, who was on bail at the time.
Christie's mother, Tracey Marceau, said she was ecstatic the select committee had advanced the bill.
"I feel that perhaps they are starting to listen to the voice of the people."
Law and order committee chairwoman Jacqui Dean said the overwhelming message from public submissions - including the Christie's Law group - was for increased public protection from bailed people with previous convictions.
This concern influenced a change which has made the bill tougher.
The original bill proposed that 17- to 19-year-old repeat offenders should no longer be favoured to get bail.
Ms Collins said the amended bill went further.
"The presumption in favour of bail for those aged 18 and 19 has been removed altogether - they would be subject to the standard adult test."
Only people aged 17 or younger would be favoured to get bail on their first charge.
Also added was a clause giving police greater powers with regard to children on bail. Officers would be able to arrest, without paperwork, under-14-year-olds who were breaching bail.
Said Ms Dean: "You've got to think about a young kid out at night - they're not out to buy an ice cream. If they've got form, they're possibly up to no good. Giving [police] power to arrest these young people gets them out of harm's way."
The fact is more New Zealanders die every year as a result of unsafe work places and corporate negligence than through murder (65 murders in 2009 and 46 in 2010 source NZ Herald), and still our government does practically nothing about work place safety.
Yet we now see the Justice and Law Reform Select Committee moving to tighten bail laws so more 17 - 19 year old teenagers will be remanded in custody. Why don't they focus with the same level of determination on work place deaths and injuries?

The Herald on 26 September 2012 carried the following report:

"With New Zealand's internationally high workplace death toll showing it is twice as dangerous as Australia for workers there is no room for complacency over public health, University of Otago Professor Jennie Connor says.
"We need a [health] system that is more strategic and less reactive," she said.
"We should invest more in public health. If we use that money [spent on public health] wisely, there are huge economies of scale in protecting people's health. I don't think we should be complacent," she said.
An Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety last week released a hard-hitting consultation document on workplace deaths and injuries which says it is about twice as dangerous to work in New Zealand as it is in Australia.
And it is nearly four times as risky as working in Britain.
About 100 people die in such accidents each year in New Zealand."
Crime is an easy sop, yet in terms of actual harm to innocent New Zealanders, the average kiwi is more at risk from their work place than they are from mentally disturbed teenagers.

"Hard cases make bad law" is an old legal maxim that is still true today. Its meaning is that a particularly unpleasant case is a poor basis for a general law which would cover a wider range of less extreme cases. In other words, a general law is better drafted for the average circumstance as this will be more common. My concern is that as a result of clamour after one or very few cases we have seen another fundamental change to established legal principles. 

There may be a perception that we are safer, but the effect of banging young people away in an adult prison, may actually socialise them to crime through the removal of pro-social supports and may  elevate risk in the long term. 

This is done on the basis of a few cases (I am not denying the grief for relatives), yet in an area where there is actual recorded harm work place deaths, we stand by and do nothing. In an area the actual advance in terms of community safety if we actually did something and actively promoted laws to ensure workplace safety the effect would be real and dramatic.