Veronica Nelson inquest findings are a damning call to action on bail reform


The Victorian Greens have said the Victorian Labor Government must reform the state’s bail laws as soon as Parliament returns, to reduce the over-imprisonment of First Nations people and the risk of further deaths in custody.

Earlier today the coronial inquiry into the death of Veronica Nelson handed down its damning findings.

The coroner found that Victoria’s current bail laws were having a discriminatory impact on First Nations people, describing the Victorian Labor Government’s changes to the Bail Act in 2018 as ‘a complete and unmitigated disaster’. 

The coroner has recommended urgent reform of the Bail Act, in particular the provisions that have adverse effects on First Nations people. 

He has also recommended establishing a record of all bail decisions including the reasons why bail is refused, and for decisions to record Aboriginality, and for this data to be published publicly.

Victorian Greens justice spokesperson, Dr Tim Read, said discrimination placing unsentenced First Nations people and women in prisons was a direct result of the laws put into place by the Victorian Labor Government, and is ongoing.

He said the findings handed down today demanded immediate bail reform, and said the Greens would again make the issue a justice priority.

In June 2020, Dr Read asked the Premier in question time to introduce legislation to fix the stark failures of its 2018 reforms, which had doubled the number of First Nations women imprisoned in only 12 months. 

The Premier and his government’s repeated refusal to address the issue led to the Greens introducing their Bail Amendment (Reducing the Pre-trial Imprisonment of Women, Aboriginal and Vulnerable Persons Bill) in 2021.

People currently on remand account for 44 per cent of all Victorian prisoners, but perversely, the rates for remand are even higher for Aboriginal Victorians, women, and children, than for the non-Aboriginal men that are statistically responsible for most serious violent crime. 

The Greens say the convoluted Bail Act must be simplified to ensure people are not imprisoned for minor offences unless they pose an unacceptable risk to the community, as recommended by the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) back in 2007.

Furthermore, they say that any proposed bail reforms must also be consistent with recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

The Greens have promised that if the Victorian Labor Government doesn’t take the urgent action needed to fix the system, they will reintroduce their private members’ bill.

Quotes attributable to Victorian Greens justice spokesperson, Dr Tim Read:

“If you haven’t been convicted of a crime, you shouldn’t be in jail just because you are vulnerable.

“Yet Victoria’s bail laws continue to disproportionately imprison First Nations people, and the vulnerable, despite being found guilty of no crime, effectively for no other reason than their inherent disadvantage. It’s the very definition of discrimination.

“We know what needs to be done to reduce the record numbers of First Nations people in Victorian jails, it was in the Royal Commission report of 30 years ago, and was in our bail bill two years ago, this government just hasn’t had the political courage to act. 

“The tragic death of Veronica Nelson must be a turning point for this government to end its failed politicised justice policies. Now is the time for evidence-based government reform on bail.”