Vacro welcomes important bail reforms

Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes has announced that new legislation will be introduced in Parliament to make much-needed changes to Victoria’s bail laws. We welcome many of these proposed amendments to the Bail Act 1977, particularly the removal of two bail offences, the establishment of a principle that a person must not be remanded for an offence that is unlikely to result in a jail sentence, the strengthening of special considerations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the repeal of the reverse onus provisions for almost all children. These important changes result from the effective advocacy of strong Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri, and Yorta Yorta woman Veronica Nelson’s family for the implementation of Poccum’s Law, which has been backed by major legal, community, and human rights organisations, including Vacro.

As Victoria’s only specialist criminal justice reintegration service, Vacro works every day with people whose first interaction with the justice system is a period of remand. Because of prison’s harmful and criminogenic effects, Vacro supports significantly reducing the number of people incarcerated in Victoria and moving towards an approach that tackles the root causes of crime, rather than relying on prison as the primary response. These urgent bail reforms represent an important first step.

But the government must do more to prevent unsafe and unnecessary incarceration on remand

However, the government must implement Poccum’s Law in full if it is to put a stop to the harm caused by the current bail regime. This means repealing the ‘reverse onus provisions’ that require vulnerable adults accused of crimes to establish exceptional circumstances or show compelling reasons for bail to be granted. The onus should rest with the prosecution to prove that there is an unacceptable risk of granting bail, as it did prior to the 2018 bail reforms. The reforms announced today refine the definition of ‘unacceptable risk’ to clarify that minor offending does not constitute unacceptable risk, but more detail is needed. Regardless of the offence, people who do not pose a risk to the safety of another person, do not pose a risk of interfering with a witness, and do not pose a risk of fleeing the jurisdiction, should have the right to bail. It must be remembered that people incarcerated on remand have not been sentenced to imprisonment.

The Attorney-General has also announced the introduction of ‘remand-prohibited offences’ so that people are not remanded for offences that are unlikely to result in a prison sentence. We recommend that the new legislation is more explicit in its requirement that a person must not be incarcerated on remand if they are unlikely to receive a sentence of imprisonment, and we hope to see more detail to this effect.

Only two of the three bail offences will be repealed under the proposed reforms. The final bail offence of failing to answer bail must also be removed to ensure that people are not further criminalised when they face difficulties meeting bail conditions. Bail offences prolong people’s interactions with the prison system and remove opportunities to receive support.

We urge the Victorian Government to implement Poccum’s Law in full and to do so quickly, instead of continuing to delay the implementation of bail reform. Every month we wait to make these urgent changes sees more people incarcerated on remand who need never have come into contact with the prison system, exposing them to its harms and removing them from their families and support networks.

Quote attributable to Marius Smith, Vacro CEO

“We welcome today’s proposed changes to the Bail Act. The changes include some really important amendments, including the principle that a person not be remanded for an offence that is unlikely to result in a jail sentence, and stronger protections for children and First Nations People. However, there is still much more to do. We await the details of these proposals, and stand with the family of Veronica Nelson in calling for the full implementation of Poccum’s Law.”


In 2018, the government’s knee-jerk reaction to public outrage over crimes committed on bail resulted in the introduction of the strictest bail regime in the country. This in turn caused an explosion in Victoria’s remand population, which the new laws disproportionately incarcerating women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accused of low-level, non-violent offending. Since 2018, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison has nearly doubled. 42% of the people incarcerated in Victoria today have not been sentenced to prison and are incarcerated on remand.

These were the conditions in which strong Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri, and Yorta Yorta woman Veronica Nelson passed away in custody in 2020. After investigating her death, Coronor Simon McGregor called our bail laws a “complete, unmitigated disaster” with a “discriminatory” impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

For all media enquiries, please contact Angela Smith at [email protected] or 0498 666 016.