Bail system wrongly jails youth

OUT-of-date bail information used by NSW Police is leading to some young people on the Northern Rivers to be falsely imprisoned, according to the lawyer behind a class action launched against the State of NSW yesterday.

Ben Slade, the managing principal of law firm Maurice Blackburn, has joined with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) to take up the matter, which they believe could involve hundreds of young people statewide and lead to millions in compensation.

The problem relates to the newly-implemented $54 million JusticeLink computer system and the way it is updated to the police database, the computerised operational policing system (COPS).

Bail conditions are inserted into JusticeLink by court staff, but it is not always readily accessible by police using the COPS database. Some bail conditions are not altered for days.

Sydney media reported last year that 22 people were paid $2.7 million in compensation due to wrongful arrest and imprisonment.

While the incidence of the problem on the Northern Rivers is hard to quantify, Mr Slade said it was happening.

“Unfortunately this is an all too regular occurrence up around Lismore,” he said.

Cases had been referred to PIAC from Legal Aid, the Aboriginal Legal Service and Community Legal Centres, he said.

The lead applicant is 19-year-old Musa Konneh, who was arrested unlawfully and detained in Sydney in 2010. Police acted on the basis of incorrect bail information and Mr Konneh spent a night in custody. He was released by the court the next day.

Lismore solicitor Sophie Anderson, of law firm Anderson Randall, who is also on the NSW Law Society Juvenile Justice committee, said there had been instances of false imprisonment on the Northern Rivers.

“It's an issue that is of real concern,” Ms Anderson said.

“The problem is that it affects some of the most vulnerable people in our community including children.”

Ms Anderson said some of the children affected, who were often from disadvantaged backgrounds, usually didn't understand the court process or the bail conditions imposed.

If they were then held in custody unlawfully, that often led to further disengagement with the justice system, she said.

Ms Anderson said she believed the class action would put a spotlight on the system applying strict bail conditions on young people far in excess of the seriousness of the alleged offences involved.

The class action was lodged with the Supreme Court on Tuesday and served on the Crown Solicitor's Office yesterday.