Business as usual? How magistrates make bail decisions in Tasmania


1 University of Tasmania

*corresponding author:

There is a quiet revolution taking place in criminal courts, as many practitioners are no longer satisfied with business as usual, and instead look for ways to address the underlying social and psychological problems that cause offending. Drawing on observation of bail applications in the Hobart magistrates’ court, and interviews with practitioners, this presentation will describe how magistrates currently make decisions. There are also, however, proposals to introduce reforms that may require defendants to attend therapeutic programs as a condition for obtaining bail. Perhaps the most interesting question for criminologists in relation to these developments is why courts change. Factors identified by American political scientists that explain bail reform during the 1970s include national reform initiatives, budgetary crises and community resistance to harsh decisions (Nardulli 1979).   By contrast, what seems to be happening in Australia today is cultural change that is disrupting traditional ideas and practices, and has the potential to transform both the bail and sentencing process.

Nardulli, P. (ed.) 1979 The Study of Criminal Courts: Political Perspectives. Ballinger, Cambridge, Mass.


Max Travers is a senior lecturer in the School of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania.  After qualifying as solicitor in England, he was awarded a PhD in sociology from the University of Manchester in 1991.   He taught at Buckinghamshire New University (High Wycombe, England) before moving to Tasmania in 2003.  His teaching and research interests are in the sociology of law, criminology and qualitative research methods.  His most recent study, The Sentencing of Children (New Academia Press, Washington DC 2012), is based on ethnographic research conducted in Australian children’s courts.


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