Speaking Too Soon: The Sabotage of Bail Reform in New South Wales


Within just over one month of coming into operation in May 2014, the new Bail Act 2013 (NSW), a product of long-term law reform consideration, was reviewed and then amended after talk-back radio ‘shock jock’ and tabloid newspaper outcry over three cases. This article examines the media triggers, the main arguments of the review conducted by former New South Wales (NSW) Attorney General John Hatzistergos, and the amendments, with our analysis of the judicial interpretation of the Act thus far providing relevant background. We argue that the amendments are premature, unnecessary, create complexity and confusion, and, quite possibly, will have unintended consequences: in short, they are a mess. The whole process of reversal is an example of law and order politics driven by the shock jocks and tabloid media, the views of which, are based on fundamental misconceptions of the purpose of bail and its place in the criminal process, resulting in a conflation of accusation, guilt and punishment. Other consequences of the review and amendments process recognised in this article include the denigration of judicial expertise and lack of concern with evidence and process; the disproportionate influence of the shock jocks, tabloids and Police Association of NSW on policy formation; the practice of using retired politicians to produce ‘quick fix’ reviews; and the political failure to understand and defend fundamental legal principles that benefit us all and are central to the maintenance of a democratic society and the rule of law. The article concludes with some discussion of ways in which media and political debate might be conducted to produce more balanced outcomes.
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Published: 2014-10-08
Pages:73 to 97
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How to Cite
Brown, D. and Quilter, J. (2014) “Speaking Too Soon: The Sabotage of Bail Reform in New South Wales”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 3(3), pp. 73-97. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.v3i2.181.

Author Biographies

University of New South Wales

Emeritus Professor David Brown taught Criminal Law, Advanced Criminal Law, Criminal Justice, Crime Prevention, Community Corrections and Penology courses at the University of NSW in Sydney from 1974 to 2008. He is a co-author of the major and innovative Criminal Laws (1990), (2nd edn 1996) and (3rd edn 2001) (4th edn 2006) (5th edn 2011) which has become the leading student teaching text in criminal law in universities in NSW.
Professor Brown is very widely published across the broad areas of criminal law, criminal justice, criminology and penology, both in Australia and internationally. He has co-authored or co-edited 10 books; published 33 chapters in books, and over 100 articles in journals and in conference proceedings published; given 120 conference papers or public addresses all over the world; and is a regular media commentator on criminal justice issues.

Julia Quilter is an Associate Professor and member of the Legal Intersections Research Centre, School of Law, University of Wollongong, Australia. Her research focuses on criminal law and criminal justice issues, including alcohol-related violence, one punch laws, public order, homelessness, fines & sexual violence.