A bill tightening bail laws for killers and repeat offenders is being toughened by making it harder for 18- and 19-year-olds to avoid custody.

Sweeping changes to bail legislation which were designed to prevent violent or sexual offenders reoffending while on bail have been approved by a parliamentary committee.

If it becomes law, the bill will mark a fundamental shift in legal principles by reversing the onus of proof for alleged offenders.

Justice Minister Judith Collins told the Weekend Herald she was confident the legislation struck the balance between the public's right to safety and the right of offenders to be considered innocent until proven guilty.


The bill would require that a person on a murder charge or repeat violence, drugs or sex charges would have to persuade a judge a community would be safe if they were released.

Under present law, the Crown must show why defendants should be locked up.

The introduction of the bill coincided with the launch of a movement called "Christie's Law".

It wants tighter bail laws after the murder of North Shore teenager Christie Marceau at the hands of 19-year-old Akshay Chand, who was on bail at the time.

Christie's mother, Tracey Marceau, said she was ecstatic the select committee had advanced the bill.

"I feel that perhaps they are starting to listen to the voice of the people."

Law and order committee chairwoman Jacqui Dean said the overwhelming message from public submissions - including the Christie's Law group - was for increased public protection from bailed people with previous convictions.

This concern influenced a change which has made the bill tougher.

The original bill proposed that 17- to 19-year-old repeat offenders should no longer be favoured to get bail.

Ms Collins said the amended bill went further.

"The presumption in favour of bail for those aged 18 and 19 has been removed altogether - they would be subject to the standard adult test."

Only people aged 17 or younger would be favoured to get bail on their first charge.

Also added was a clause giving police greater powers with regard to children on bail. Officers would be able to arrest, without paperwork, under-14-year-olds who were breaching bail.

Said Ms Dean: "You've got to think about a young kid out at night - they're not out to buy an ice cream. If they've got form, they're possibly up to no good. Giving [police] power to arrest these young people gets them out of harm's way."

The Opposition supports the principle of increased public safety but believes the bill misses the mark.

Labour MP Charles Chauvel said the high rate of offences committed by people on bail was partly because of a congested court system which kept defendants waiting up to two years for a trial - increasing the chance they would commit crimes while on bail.

Green MP David Clendon said the tougher rules were a political response to a vocal minority who demanded more punitive measures on the false basis that violent crime was increasing.

What the bill does
* Reverses burden of proof for accused murderers in bail cases
* Broadens list of offences in which defendants will have to show they will not be a threat if released
* Removes provision favouring bail for 17- to 19-year-old repeat offenders
* Allows police to arrest without a warrant people who repeatedly breach bail
* Increases penalty for failure to appear in court to three months' jail or a fine of up to $1000
* Allows district courts to deal with serious offenders in bail cases
New proposals
* All 18- and 19-year-old repeat offenders to face adult bail test
* Police will not need warrants to arrest children under 14 who are breaching bail conditions.

- additional reporting: Anna Leask