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Bail reforms set to keep more Victorians out of jail

Cassandra Morgan -

Low-level offenders will find it easier to get bail and fewer Victorians will languish on remand under long-awaited reforms.

Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes announced the government would on Tuesday introduce legislation in a bid to reduce unnecessary remand for people accused of low-level offending.

Under the changes to the Bail Act, people who committed crimes they were unlikely to receive prison time for would not be remanded in jail while they awaited their sentence.

The change would apply to summary offences, excluding some specific crimes including sexual exposure, displaying a Nazi symbol and aggravated assault, the government said.

The "double uplift" provision - which resulted in people who committed offences while on bail having their test for bail uplifted to a more onerous one - would also be scrapped under the reforms.

The uplifting provision has resulted in the reverse-onus test applying to some offenders, whereby offenders themselves - rather than the prosecution - have to prove why they should get bail.

The bail reforms would redefine the definition of "unacceptable risk" to make it clear a court shouldn't refuse someone bail just because there was a risk they could commit further minor offending.

The change to the risk threshold would be particularly relevant for offences including repeated thefts, the government suggested.

The reforms would also repeal the crimes of breaching bail conditions and committing further offences while on bail.

"These offences were introduced in 2013 and have been shown to disproportionately impact women, children and Aboriginal people with no clear deterrent benefit or improvement to community safety," the government said.

Children would have a presumption in favour of bail under the laws, and adults would be able to make a second application for bail without showing new facts and circumstances.

"These reforms are sensible, proportionate and necessary," Ms Symes said.

"They address the most urgent changes needed to our bail system so that those involved in minor offending don't have a major life setback because of it."

In January, Coroner Simon McGregor found the 2020 death of Indigenous woman Veronica Nelson in custody was preventable and called for an urgent review of the Bail Act.

Ms Nelson was arrested in December 2019 on warrants for breaching bail and suspicion of shoplifting and represented herself in a bail application, which was denied.

Following dozens of calls for help, she died in her cell at Dame Phyllis Frost Centre days later from complications of Wilkie's syndrome while suffering from heroin withdrawal.

Changes to bail laws reportedly won't be implemented for 12 months after the bill passes.

Cassandra Morgan - AAP

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