Changes to Bail Act premature: UOW expert

Steve Fesus outside Wollongong Court house in June.

Steve Fesus outside Wollongong Court house in June.

A senior University of Wollongong lecturer has slammed the state government, saying it is acting "prematurely" after announcing a review of the recently changed Bail Act.

The government has announced a review of the Bail Act 2013, which only came into force on May 20, 2014.

The new act means accused offenders are granted bail unless there is an unacceptable risk of them reoffending or being a threat to the community.

Previously, bail was granted based on the charge and presumption for or against release.

Senior UOW law lecturer Dr Julia Quilter said the review was premature, and a response to recent media coverage and public outrage following bail decisions in several high-profile cases.

"This Bail Act came into force only one month ago - it is madness to be reviewing a bail act when we do not know and do not have any evidence of how it will operate," Dr Quilter said.

"The new Bail Act was a very considered law reform process in which all groups; lawyers, victims' rights group, civil libertarians, and judges were involved."

One case that has raised public ire since the Bail Act was changed was that of Steven Fesus, who was accused of murdering his wife 17 years ago at their home at Mount Warrigal.

Fesus was granted bail under the new act, prompting public outrage.

Dr Quilter said it appeared the public didn't understand the purpose of bail.

"The purpose of bail is not to condemn, judge or punish ... in our criminal justice system, they must be presumed innocent until tried and convicted in a court of law," she said. "Bail is a mechanism for ensuring an accused person turns up to face charges against them and if they are released on bail, there are no unacceptable risks to the community."

Dr Quilter added that the recent changes also allowed police to exercise discretion when dealing with alleged offenders who had breached their bail.

"[It] gives police a series of choices about what to do if a bail condition is breached and they range from giving a person a warning to arresting them," she said.

"In the past, the practice was simply to arrest, no matter how trivial that breach was."

Dr Quilter said that, following the review, it was likely the NSW Bail Act would resemble the Victorian model, where there was an assumption against bail for more serious alleged offenders.