WE WELCOME the Government’s recall of Parliament to debate legislation dealing with the criminal justice system. We call on all parties to approach next Wednesday’s sitting with urgency and impartiality – putting the interest of country, not party, first, and using this break of the holiday recess as an opportunity to find solutions for the nation.
This is even more important and urgent given the violence we have had to endure these past few days, with 13 people being killed – some of them at the hands of pirates – in less than 24 hours.
Many will say the sitting may have little direct impact on crime because what is needed is not just law but also a deeper, more multifaceted engagement. We agree. Laws alone cannot fix the problem.
We further note it has been said, time and time again, that the bail legislation does not work. Despite being enacted by governments, it has not stopped the bloodshed. And the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.
But no one is claiming the latest incarnation of the Bail Amendment Bill is a silver bullet. Rather, the legislation is simply a tool being given to law enforcement officers. The question of impact is a wholly separate one.
Further, this legislation cannot be evaluated in a vacuum. Since when do we expect one single bill to solve crime forever? It is better for police to have this tool within their arsenal.
The State, in the face of a crime wave which has paralysed entire swathes of the nation with fear, is entitled to require people on pending criminal charges to conform to conditions. True, people are innocent until proven guilty and should not be treated unfairly just because they are suspected of wrongdoing. But when we ask people on bail to conform to conditions, we do not regard such conditions as an unjustified encroachment. That’s because the public, too, must be protected, even if guilt or innocence is yet to be ruled on.
It is no stretch to say a condition of a person being on bail for one offence is that they not be charged with another pending determination of innocence or guilt for the initial matter. Once there are adequate checks and balances to prevent abuse, and once it can be shown that there is a legitimate need to exert stricter standards when it comes to firearms offences, the law is justifiable.
Alternatively, if it is the case that the legislation is viewed as unsatisfactory, it is imperative that people who object suggest useful counter-measures. The State has to work to come up with solutions, not become frozen if it does not get its way next Wednesday.
Aside from the bail legislation, there are many other matters relating to criminal justice reform pending. Just look at the Order Paper. There are bills to amend the Supplemental Police Act, to beef up penalties for wasting law enforcement authorities’ time, to improve how the State protects children from criminal abuse.
So to our MPs we say: yes, get back to work.