Strategy to cut gun crime at risk

A STATE government strategy aimed at helping police fight gun crime is under threat because it is too expensive.

The Legal Aid Commission cannot afford to support the government's decision to undermine the right to silence, a meeting of the Sydney Institute of Criminology and the NSW Bar Association will be told on Monday night.

Last year the O'Farrell government said it would virtually remove people's right to silence when they are arrested, to help police get unco-operative witnesses of drive-by shootings to assist with their inquiries.

Like the system in England on which it is based, the removal of the right to silence will make it necessary for the government to provide people with free legal advice before being compelled to provide a statement to police.

Under the English system a lawyer is based at every police station to provide free advice. Fairfax Media understands the O'Farrell government considers this too costly. Instead, it is proposing to provide advice over a telephone hotline service.

The president of the NSW Bar Association, Phillip Boulten, who will address the Monday night gathering, said Legal Aid has been forced to shed solicitors and does not have enough resources to provide the legal advice that will be needed for people denied the right to silence.

The government is also understood to be considering bringing in a compulsory defence disclosure provision which will require an accused person to disclose their defence before trial. This will provide an extra cost burden on the defence and the prosecution.

The already cash-strapped Director of Public Prosecutions is unlikely to have enough resources to speed up its briefings for the prosecutor to do the work required under the new system.

''The wholesale assault on the right to silence is actually going to cost the government a lot of money. I don't think they have properly costed it,'' Mr Boulten said.

There was no evidence to suggest removing the right to silence would increase the rate at which people pleaded guilty or the rate at which they were convicted. The law was completely misguided because it did not apply to witnesses as intended, but to those charged with the crime.

''This is not a measure that is aimed at getting witnesses to disclose what they saw; this is a measure which is aimed at getting the accused person to say what they did,'' he said.

''There will be no obligation on the accused to do this and in any event it is not like the police have been arresting people for these shootings and they are clamming up and not speaking. So the rationale behind it is political spin. The real impetus for this seems to be coming from the police ministry … the police officers.

''I am of the view that the government is being driven by a form of ideological fight sourced in the police and to a lesser extent the prosecution.''

Mr Boulten said the bar association opposes the removal of the right to silence because vulnerable suspects would be worse off.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General, Greg Smith, declined to comment on the issues raised by Mr Boulten.

''The government has consulted widely about the proposed changes and will be announcing its position shortly,'' she said.

Deadly results ... drive-by shootings are increasing. Picture: Gene Ramirez

Deadly results ... drive-by shootings are increasing. Picture: Gene Ramirez


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