Thousands on bail avoid court

JENNA LYNCH
Last updated 05:00 29/01/2014

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A Waikato criminal who has been on the run from the courts for almost eight years is just one of more than 25,000 New Zealanders who have skipped a court date while on bail in the last two years.

Figures released to the Waikato Times under the Official Information Act show that in the past two years, 25,323 people released on bail failed to appear in court. Of these, 2155 were from the Waikato region.

Dozens of them are still on the run.

There are 1812 outstanding warrants for people released on bail nationally and 153 in the Waikato. Nationally, 1308 have been on the run for more than five years.

The numbers have prompted calls from Sensible Sentencing for the Government to tighten up its bail laws.

Waikato Sensible Sentencing Trust spokeswoman Paula Hastings said while the figures were sad, they were not surprising.

"This is why we want some amendments to the bail laws, especially for violent offending," she said.

"It's scary to think that there's some of these people out there and some of them will be looking for their next victim.

"It begs the question: ‘Why are these people getting bail in the first place?"'

Her calls have been somewhat answered. The Ministry of Justice said that in August last year the Bail Amendment Bill passed its third and final reading in Parliament and one of the changes gives police more weight in bail decisions.

The change means there will be more cases where a defendant must prove that they should be released on bail, rather than the prosecutor proving that they should not.

But Mrs Hastings said it must not stop there. Victims need to be given more protection and their impact statements should be carefully considered before granting bail, she said.

"Submissions made by victims should be taken into account when considering bail. [Murder victim] Christie Marceau, she was terrified of that guy and she knew what he was going to do, but he still got bailed."

The figures also show that only one of the Waikato offenders on the run was on electronically monitored bail, while six were nationally.

But Minister of Justice Judith Collins said that while the Government wanted to do "everything practical to ensure offenders turn up to court and are held to account" there were no plans to increase the use of ankle bracelets.

"Electronic monitoring may not be practical in every case and again it is a matter for the courts to decide where its use is appropriate," she said.

Mrs Hastings said that statistics she had seen showed 81 per cent of violent offenders being granted bail, and if ankle bracelets were keeping them in check, then more should be used.

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"The reoffending while on bail rate can be up to 20 per cent and people say that's not much, but when you think about the crimes some are committing - rape, murder, assault - it's quite frightening. I think it's important to remember that these aren't just figures, these are offenders who can destroy people's lives."

She also called for tougher consequences for those who failed to attend court while on bail.

"It just seems to undermine the whole system. For serious breaches of bail there needs to be jail time."

Ms Collins said there was a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment for failing to answer bail and there were no plans to change this.

"Ultimately it is up to judges to decide the sentence in each case based on all the particular circumstances."

EVADING JUSTICE 

Failed to appear while on bail:

Waikato: 2155

NZ: 25,323

Still have active warrants:

Waikato: Bail: 120 Electronically monitored (EM) Bail: 1

NZ: Bail: 1417 EM Bail: 6

Longest time on the run:

Waikato: Bail: 94 months (7.83 years) EM Bail: 9 months

NZ: Bail: 113 months (9.41 years) EM Bail: 24 months (2 years) 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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