Bourke St aftermath: "Night courts" to stop easy bail
MAGISTRATES will be available at night and on weekends to hear bail applications after the Friday rampage on Bourke Street.
Premier Daniel Andrews and Attorney-General Martin Pakula announced immediate changes to how bail is considered, with Mr Andrews saying sweeping reforms were necessary.
He said a broader review of the Bail Act will be undertaken by former Supreme Court Judge Paul Coghlan, who would be tasked with considering the "sort of change we owe these victims and their family".
Mr Andrews said the immediate change to establish a "night court" system would see more applications for bail heard by magistrates rather than bail justices.
"It's our job to take the frustration, anger and deep sadness that Victorians feel after the Bourke Street tragedy and to make sure that's put into reform and change," Mr Andrews said.
Mr Pakula said thanked court chiefs who this weekend assured him that changes were manageable.
"This comprehensive look at Victoria's bail system is an important first step following the Bourke Street tragedy," he said.
Mr Andrews said the government would clarify the "line that will be drawn" between when magistrates or bail justices would hear bail applications.
He said it was likely that the crimes that would be considered by out-of-hours magistrates would relate to violence or be "complex matters".
The premier said that "is not in any sense" to undermine or devalue the work of bail justices, but that the events of Friday needed a change that erred on the side of caution.
As reported by the Herald Sun overnight, police are calling for bail to be automatically denied to anyone charged with a serious offence.
The Police Association says those charged with offences such as armed robberies, carjackings, serious assaults and home invasions should not be able to apply for bail.
Bruce McKenzie, assistant secretary of The Police Association Victoria, says bail justices should also be scrapped.
Magistrates should instead make decisions on bail 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Some bail justices have blamed a lack of resourcing for problems, saying that they are under pressure to release accused people because Victoria's jails are full.
Anger is growing over systemic failings leading up to Friday's carnage in the CBD.
Sources have told the Herald Sun that the Andrews Government held an emergency Cabinet meeting yesterday.
The government is looking at immediate changes to tighten bail and a longer term overhaul of the system.
But the state Opposition says urgent reform is needed.
The driver accused of the city killings, Dimitrious Gargasoulas, was freed by a bail justice on Saturday, January 14, despite opposition from police.
He was charged with assaulting his mother's partner.
The latest case follows a series of shocking so-called "soft justice" cases, including the murders of Jill Meagher, Luke Batty, and Masa Vukotic.
Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten joined the outrage over system failings last night, telling the Herald Sun: "Melburnians are just shocked at how this could have occurred.
"For something so violent and horrific to occur, something's clearly broken. It appears that all the warning signs were there. We need to get to try bottom of how this happened ..." Mr Shorten said.
Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton earlier said the bail situation was infuriating for police officers.
"I would be remiss if I didn't express that frustration that police members feel around the issues," he said.
Mr McKenzie said: "The time of bail justices is up.
"Bail justices have done a good job up until now but with the complexities of the law and the risks of bailing people now ... it should be in the hands of a magistrate," he said.
"On-call magistrates, on a 24/7 basis (should do the job). Technology should be implemented so the magistrate doesn't actually have to be there," Mr McKenzie said.
On tightening bail laws, he said: "With homicides, you would only get somebody bailed in extremely rare circumstances, but we think people who are charged with armed robberies, carjackings, serious assaults, home invasions ... they should automatically be denied bail.
"We are looking forward to having input into the changes the government must surely be making to the bail system," Mr McKenzie said.
Mr Andrews said any changes to bail laws found to be necessary would be made, adding that neither resources nor expense would be an issue.
"That's our focus today. We are sad, we are angry, and we are resolute in making the changes that need to be made to learn from this and to honour that three-month-old baby, and honour all those who have lost their lives here and all of those who have had their lives forever changed."
It is believed the government is steering away from the immediate abolition of bail justices, who deal with about 10,000 cases a year, because of the lack of another option. But it has not ruled out scrapping them in the longer term.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy called for an urgent overhaul: "Our bail system is not protecting us, it is not standing up for Victorians ...
"We need to ensure, for all of our safety … that the system is reformed and reformed quickly. If parliament needs to be recalled, then recall it."
Some bail justices, who did not want to be named, said there was pressure to bail suspects because prisons were full.
But there was also scepticism about the release of Gargasoulas, considering the charges he faced and the police opposition to his release.
It is understood there has been a growing frustration among some bail justices over a "softly, softly'' stance.
Bail justice Gary Poole said there were signs that since the Bourke St rampage "nervous" colleagues were taking themselves off rosters.
He said the bail justice who had granted bail to Gargasoulas was being supported.
He said he had previously written to Attorney-General Martin Pakula and his shadow, John Pesutto, about reforming the "antiquated" system. One suggestion was to remunerate bail justices. Neither replied.
He described any proposal to scrap bail justices as "ridiculous'' and too costly.