Filling up NT jails ‘not answer’ to crime

Lawyers have criticised NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles' measures to curb anti-social behaviour.

Lawyers have criticised NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles' measures to curb anti-social behaviour. Photo: AAP

The Northern Territory’s peak Aboriginal legal service body has cautioned against “hastily applied bail reform” after the fatal stabbing of a bottle shop worker, saying filling up jails would not address the issue.

Chief Minister Natasha Fyles on Wednesday unveiled a suite of measures aimed at addressing anti-social behaviour and violence, including a review of bail laws for offences involving a weapon.

It followed the death of 20-year-old Darwin BWS worker Declan Laverty, who was stabbed multiple times on Sunday.

But “filling up jails is not the answer,” said Dr John Paterson, acting chief executive of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA).

“We understand the community sentiment of anger and anguish, and rightly so, but quick fixes will not, and cannot, prevent crime.”

No ‘reductions to offending’

The NT government last reviewed bail laws in 2021, which removed a presumption of bail for first-time child offenders and revoked bail for reoffenders.

“We know the impact that hastily applied bail reform can have,” said Dr Paterson.

“It happened here in the Territory in 2021 … and yet we didn’t see any reductions to offending.”

Attorney-General Chansey Paech said any bail reforms introduced by the government would be carefully considered.

“Running in at the 11th hour into parliament to bring in changes that may have unintended consequences in other areas of the justice system is not appropriate,” he said.

“We need to make sure that we are looking at every avenue possible to make sure that we provide strong legislation that is inclusive of everybody in our community.”

Opposition call to strengthen bail laws

But the opposition has called for bail laws to be immediately strengthened.

Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro told parliament on Thursday she would propose legislation that would revoke bail for repeat or violent offenders

“We need to stop the revolving door on bail,” she said.

“We believe this meets the minimum expectation of the community when it comes to enforcing a community standard.”

The NT’s proposed review follows controversial laws passed in Queensland last week to criminalise bail breaches for children and to allow courts to fit 15-year-olds with GPS trackers.

NT ‘following lead of Queensland’

Australian Lawyers Alliance national criminal justice spokesman, Greg Barns SC, said making bail more difficult would lead to overcrowded prisons and would not cause any reduction in crime in the NT.

“We are disturbed to see the NT government following the lead of Queensland in thinking it can jail its way out of criminal activity,” he said.

“All the evidence available shows that placing young people in particular in the jail environment is more likely to increase the risk of criminal activity on release.”

The NAAJA has also expressed concerns proposed laws would disproportionately impact Aboriginal people.

It called instead for an expansion of bail support services and greater investment in conflict resolution, alcohol support and rehabilitation programs.


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