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David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Judges: We feel tragedies too

Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue said better information might lead to more people being released on bail. Photo / Dean Purcell
Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue said better information might lead to more people being released on bail. Photo / Dean Purcell

The judiciary has expressed sorrow over cases in which alleged offenders on bail have reoffended and say new tools will help them make better informed decisions in some violence cases.

But it doesn't mean judges will be keeping more accused offenders in prison - Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue said better information might lead to more people being released on bail.

Judge Doogue, whose 123 judges handle almost all the 90,000 bail decisions made each year, said judges involved in decisions which went wrong were not untouched by the aftermath.

"We feel very keenly that there have been, not just in relation to our court but generally ... some judicial decisions made where things have gone wrong after those decisions were made.

"The judges are not immune to those tragedies. The suggestion we might be cavalier or unaffected by any of that is quite wrong."

A Herald DigiPoll survey found two-thirds of those asked believed bail was too easy to get.

Only 21 per cent said it was about right.

The poll comes after a high-profile campaign for tougher bail laws and investigations into judges by the parents of slain teenager Christie Marceau and the victims' rights lobby group Sensible Sentencing Trust.

The campaign was launched after Christie - who would have turned 20 today - was killed by a man bailed on serious charges involving the teenager.

The campaign coincided with a renewed National Party election pledge to toughen up bail laws which followed an earlier Sensible Sentencing Trust campaign.

Judge Doogue said she had written to Justice Minister Judith Collins to ask for the judiciary to be funded for tools which would help evaluate risk better.

She said one new tool had been adopted by police to help predict repeated family violence and would be used to better inform judges of the chance of an alleged offender committing further offences while on bail.

She said the criticism of judges over bail had been unfair.

"Within the bounds of ordinary human frailty judges are being asked to predict the future with 100 per cent accuracy. That's where the unfairness comes in. We do tens of thousands of these every year. The number that go wrong - and it is a tragedy that they do - is just an infinitesimal fraction of those."

Judge Doogue said the prediction became more difficult in cases involving new immigrants. Judges were then asked to make decisions on people with no record of a criminal history - or any other social indications - "with 100 per cent accuracy and in the absence of the kind of assessment tools which are available in jurisdictions overseas".

She said statistics showed the perceived problems with bail were "out of kilter" with the reality.

"If you read the paper you think judges are making decisions every day ... that are going horribly wrong because of things which happen later, which is not the reality."

Judith Collins - who said she was with the two-thirds of people who believed bail was too easy to get - supported the judiciary over bail.

"I cannot think of one judge who would willingly and knowingly let out on bail someone who then goes on to kill someone, knowing that person is going on to kill someone. I'm saying the law is wrong, which is why we are changing it."

- NZ Herald

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