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Former DPP boss Nicholas Cowdery slams Baird government over Bail Act review

Date

Michaela Whitbourn

LEGAL AFFAIRS

Nicholas Cowdery.

Nicholas Cowdery. Photo: Steven Siewert

Former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery has accused the Baird government of "political grandstanding" over its decision to order a review of the state's fledgling bail laws just a month after they took effect.

Mr Cowdery said the review of the new bail regime, announced by Premier Mike Baird on Friday, was "completely inappropriate and unnecessary".

"The [new Bail Act] is just beginning to be applied and it is too early to make any assessment of its effects," he said.

<i>Illustration: Cathy Wilcox.</i>

Illustration: Cathy Wilcox.

The laws were a product of "lengthy and expert consideration" by the NSW Law Reform Commission, he said, and they "should be allowed to operate without this wasteful distraction".

The new regime began on May 20 and replaced the presumption against bail for serious offences, such as murder, with a broad consideration of whether the accused posed an "unacceptable risk" of re-offending. Critics have pointed to a handful of decisions, including the release on bail of accused murderers Mahmoud "Mick" Hawi and Steven Fesus, as evidence the laws should be repealed.

Mr Cowdery said the government was engaged in "political grandstanding that denies the opportunity for the act to be given proper effect and for assessment to be made of any changes under the new act in rates of bail refusal, the likelihood of being granted bail and absconding or offending on bail".

Former Labor attorney-general John Hatzistergos has been commissioned to conduct the urgent review and deliver a report with "potential enhancements" before the next parliamentary sitting in August.

"Mr Hatzistergos will not be able to make those relevant assessments [of bail rates] – it is too early for anyone to do so," Mr Cowdery said.

"This is another instance of a trend in conservative governments – to respond to even isolated and anomalous events by 'reviewing' laws or legislating anew. Instead, they should allow the judicial processes to be applied to the law and then have it properly assessed by experts, not former politicians."

His comments come as the NSW Bar Association urges the government to reconsider the "premature and misconceived" review.

"No rational explanation has been advanced as to why it is thought necessary to have legislation which commenced only weeks ago reviewed at this point in time," said the association's president, Jane Needham, SC.

Arthur Moses, SC, the association's junior vice-president, said a review of laws after just four weeks was "unprecedented".

"The legislation should not be the subject of knee-jerk reaction simply because of a concern raised in a media report," Mr Moses said.

He said the association supported NSW Attorney-General Brad Hazzard's "correct and measured comments" just days before the review was announced, which defended the new laws and said the government's bail-monitoring group, including representatives from the police, DPP and other bodies, would bring any concerns to its attention.

Mr Hazzard said: "The aim here is to get it right for the community first and foremost. The government is committed to ensuring that individuals charged with serious crime who are judged a risk to the community are locked up.

"I welcome the Bar Association’s views and will ensure that Mr Hatzistergos hears their concerns."

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