Tough new laws to crack down serious offenders who skip bail and teenagers who break their curfew are to be announced today.
Justice Minister Judith Collins is expected to introduce legislation to Parliament which will give police new powers to deal with under 17s who breach their bail conditions.
Officers have expressed frustration that they are simply acting as a drop-off service for teenagers caught on the street while they are on curfew.
The new Bail Amendment Act will also bring into force pledges made by National during the election campaign to crack down on the high rate of offending on bail by defendants charged with murder, violent, sex and class A drug offences.
Figures show the percentage of defendants on bail increased from 15.7 per cent in 2004 to 18.4 per cent in 2009. The most common crimes were traffic violations, theft, acts intended to cause injury and public order offences.
It will impose a 'reverse burden of proof' regime requiring defendants especially those with a history of bail breaches to demonstrate why they should not be locked up. Currently it is up to prosecutors to prove to the court that bail should not be granted.
The maximum penalty for failing to answer police bail will now be three months imprisonment in addition to a current $1000 fine.
To free up judges time, jurisdictions of justices of the peace and community magistrates to deal with some bail breaches will be restored.
The law will also make clear bail will not be granted in return for information on crimes.
Collins said the proposals gave police and courts "a bit of teeth."
"There are some quite significant changes in there.
"Those with the highest risk are going to have to show why they should be released on bail rather than the other way around.
"It addresses the question of public confidence in the bail system. If we don't have [that]...then the pressure comes on for bail not to be granted. So it is important that the right people get bail and the wrong people don't."
It means police will no longer have to get a warrant to arrest under 17s who breach bail.
"At the moment they feel their hands are tied and they have to wait for them to go on to commit further offences.
"They will be able to uplift a young defendant found in breach of their bail curfew and return them home. And they will be able to arrest a young defendant who repeatedly or significantly breach their bail conditions."
She said the law will also remove the "presumption in favour of bail" for defendants aged 17-19 who have previously been jailed. They will now be subject to the standard adult test for bail.
"Some of those 17- 19-year-olds, if they have been in prison at those ages, they will generally have committed extremely serious crimes like attempted murder or rape."
The bill will be introduced today and is expected to pass its first reading. It will then be referred to the law and order select committee.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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