Victoria's 2018 bail laws, which almost doubled the number of Aboriginal women in custody in the state, will be wound back within months as part of reforms proposed by Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes.
Under the plan announced Sunday, low-level offenders would no longer need to prove they will not pose a risk to the community if released on bail, in a significant retreat from Victoria's controversial "reverse-onus test". Rather, it would be up to police to successfully make the case for bail to be refused.
In January Victorian coroner Simon McGregor slammed the state's bail system as a "complete and unmitigated disaster" and urged sweeping reforms in his findings on the death of Veronica Nelson, a young Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman who died in police custody after being refused bail for a minor alleged offence.
On Sunday the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service said the 2018 bail laws have been a "complete and unmitigated disaster" because governments ignored expert advice.
"Bail reform is desperately needed, but the Government needs to do the reforms that experts want, not force through another mess," the Service said in a statement.
"VALS has been advocating for bail reform that ensures: remand is only used as a last resort; bail hearings are fair; and a meaningful reduction in the overincarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people."
VALS expressed "deep disappointment" that "the Police Lobby is pushing out a scare campaign again - and talking down the capability of Victoria Police".
"Victoria's broken bail laws have not made Victoria safer - the broken bail laws have destroyed communities."
Liberty Victoria said "it's rare for governments to admit they got the balance wrong, so credit to the Vic AG".
"We'll wait to see the details of the proposed reforms. Our position is that a single unacceptable risk test is the best and fairest threshold for bail," the group said in a statement.
"If an alleged offender, entitled to the presumption of innocence, is not an unacceptable risk of committing a serious offence, failing to appear at court, or interfering with witnesses, then there is no proper basis to hold them in custody pending hearing or trial."
The Australian Lawyers Alliance welcomed the proposed bail reforms announced by the Attorney-General but noted there needs to be wholesale bail law reform.
"Courts must have, as was the case for many years in Victoria, the broadest discretion to consider bail, and not be restricted with complex rules and tests," the Alliance said in a statement.
Spokesperson Greg Barns SC said bail reform is overdue and the courts "must not be hemmed in by complex new tests".
"The details of this proposed reform legislation are very important given the complexity of the Victorian bail act which runs to a staggering 119 pages. In contrast Tasmania's bail law is only 24 pages," he said.
"The presumption must be in favour of bail for all offences with the courts given full discretion to determine the risks to public safety or reoffending in determining if that presumption is displaced.
"A simplified process with the presumption in favour of bail is required. We urgently need to decrease the number of unsentenced people in prisons."
Mr Barns SC noted that in 2017 the Alliance warned the proposed changes to bail laws "would be harmful and unfortunately that has proven to be the case".
"This harm has disproportionately impacted First Nations people and the results are tragic," he said.
"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are overrepresented on remand and we know that they experience unique disadvantages in their contact with the criminal justice system.
"We look forward to reviewing the detail of the proposed legislation and providing input to the government."