Editorial: Curran shows bail law needs changing

By Dylan Thorne

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Any argument for toughening up the bail laws is well supported by the case of Tauranga killer Michael Curran.

In 2005, Curran strangled Natasha Hayden to death at McLaren Falls.

Granted bail by a High Court judge on July 7, 2005, Curran then went on to murder Tauranga 2-year-old Aaliyah Morrissey on September 13 that year.

Curran, who was jailed for 20 years and six months with a minimum non-parole period of 20 years, had 22 criminal convictions by the time he killed Mrs Hayden - including indecent assault on a girl under 12.

That someone facing such a serious charge - and with such an extensive criminal history - was granted bail is concerning in itself. The staggering thing is it appears not to be an isolated case.

Figures released by the Ministry of Justice this week showed 23 people were convicted of murders committed while free on bail over a five-year period. A further 21 were convicted of "homicide-related" offences committed while on bail. These included manslaughter, attempted murder and driving causing death.

A parliamentary select committee started hearing submissions on proposed changes to bail laws this week. The Bail Amendment Bill aims to change bail laws to improve public safety. One of the proposed bail reforms is reversing the burden of proof for serious violent, sexual or class-A drug offences.

This would mean defendants would have to prove that they would not be a threat to public safety if released from custody. The Law Society has argued the small number of serious crimes committed by people on bail may not justify an overhaul of the principle that defendants are guilty until proven innocent The society should try telling that to family of Aaliyah Morrissey or Brian Brown, the father of Natasha Hayden.

Anyone who has sat in a courtroom for any length of time can attest to the frequency in which defendants appear in the dock for either breaching their bail conditions or committing a crime while on bail for other charges.

Protecting individual rights is the cornerstone of a free society, but there are occasions when the greater good must take precedence. The law must change. People accused of serious crimes, such as murder, and who have a history of offending do not deserve to be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to bail. Their track record clearly shows they have had no respect for the laws that govern society in the past and the law-abiding public needs to be protected from any possible further offending while the case is before the courts.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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