Christie’s Law

The Herald reported:

Tracey Marceau delivered a tearful plea to Parliament yesterday as she presented a 58,000 signature petition supporting the campaign, in memory of her slain daughter, to strengthen bail laws.

Christie Marceau, 18, died in her mother’s arms after a violent attack at their North Shore home in November.

Akshay Chand was arrested at the scene and later charged with Christie’s murder. Chand was on bail at the time after being charged in September with kidnapping, assaulting and threatening Christie. 

A campaign website has been set up, asking for 10 changes to bail laws, to help stop any preventable killings – such as Christie’s.

One proposed change is an unfortunate loophole in the 3 strikes laws, that if you commit further violent or sexual offences while on bail for a similar offence – then the further offences do not count as strikes. This provides a perverse incentive to offend more while on bail, as the consequences are reduced.

The reasons it works this way is that you can’t get a second strike, until convicted of a first strike, and offenders need to be aware in advance of the consequences of any further offending. But a simple solution to this is that if someone charged with a “strike” offence is given bail then they are told in court that if convicted they will get a first strike and if they offend similarly while on bail then further convictions will be their second and third strikes. This would remove the perverse incentive that offending on bail has less severe consequences.

The campaign has 10 changes they are seeking to the Bail Act, which I will outline below. The one I mentioned above may be dealt with as a private members bill. I understand Taupo MP Louise Upston is drafting such a bill.

The 10 changes are:

  1. No bail for any person who is charged with a serious violent “three strike” offence, who has previously committed a serious violent “three strike” offence while on bail.
  2. Judges should be required to pay particular regard to submissions made by victims, and any personal threats made against victims in deciding whether bail should be granted.
  3. Fix the loophole that allows persons committing serious violent “ three strike” offences while on bail for other serious violent “ three strike” offences, to avoid the “three strikes” sentencing regime.
  4. Removal of the strong presumption in favour of bail for persons under 20 where previously convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment.
  5. Conduct an annual review into serious breaches of bail & serious crime committed while on bail, and reported to the Minister of Justice and publicly available.
  6. Police should have powers to appeal bail decisions equal to those the defence has.
  7. Implement a “risk assessment tool” to assist Judges to make well-informed bail decisions.
  8. Implement practical methods of increasing judicial accountability for bail decisions, such as internal benchmarking of Judges’ performance and assistance for poorly performing Judges.
  9. Serious breaches of bail to be addressed by a presumption of imprisonment, rather than fines, which are ineffective, inconsistently applied and rarely paid.
  10. Offences committed while on bail should be sentenced cumulatively, rather than concurrently as they generally are at present.

With (1) I think if one has committed a serious violent offence while on bail, you should lose bail eligibility in the future.

(2) is minor, and (3) I discuss above. No (4) is debatable – it would depend on what replaces the strong presumption in favour of bail. Nos 5 to 8 are fairly minor also.

No (9) I support. Breaching bail is not a minor issue, and the best way to deter it is the near certainty of imprisonment for serious breaches.

No 10 is of critical importance. Stephen Franks has blogged on this previously. It all comes back to the fact offenders on bail are incentivised to offend further, for little consequences. If for example you are charged with 25 burglaries and you get bail. Now if you go and do another 20 burglaries while on bail, then the sentence you will get will tend to be almost the same as for the original 25 burglaries.

I do support concurrent sentencing as the norm, but not for offences done on bail. You need to have an incentive to not offend on bail – and the current set-up provides very little incentives – as we tragically have seen.

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