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Justice advocates slam New South Wales government response to coronial reform recommendations

Giovanni Torre -

Human rights and justice advocates have slammed the New South Wales government for "ignoring" key recommendations for reforms to the Coroner's Court.

The Select Committee on the coronial jurisdiction in NSW issued 35 recommendations in May, of which 15 were supported by the State Government on Tuesday.

Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT principal legal officer Nadine Miles said the government's response was disappointing.

"The parliamentary inquiry put forward a courageous vision of what the Coroner's Court could become â€" a safer space for grieving Aboriginal families and a legal institution with the power to prevent future deaths in custody," she said.

"It's extremely disappointing that the New South Wales government is failing to embrace that vision after the record number of deaths in custody in this state last year.

"To note a recommendation is essentially to put it on the backburner, but we have no time to lose when it comes to reforming the systems and environments that put Aboriginal lives at risk."

Ms Miles said accountability for the failures of public institutions to protect Indigenous people was not too much to ask for.

Among the recommendations not supported which have raised the ire of the ALS NSW/ACT are:

That the NSW Government propose amendments to the Coroners Act 2009Â (NSW) to require coroners to examine whether systemic issues played a role leading to any death;

That the NSW Government propose amendments to the Coroners Act 2009Â (NSW) to improve the accountability of responses to recommendations;

That the NSW Government establish and fund a specialist preventive death review unit in the Coroners Court; and

That the NSW Government appoint significantly more qualified First Nations people to the judiciary, including the appointment of First Nations persons as coroners and introduction of a First Nations Commissioner.

In its official response to the recommendations the NSW government said it would continue to assess opportunities to strengthen the operations of coronial jurisdiction in the state.

Strengthen accountability around acquitting coronial recommendations made to government and non-government entities was supported in principle.

Monitoring and reporting of coronial recommendations was found to be inconsistent with the judiciciary's functions.

New South Wales Attorney General Mark Speakman said the government recognised the trauma and grief experienced by families and communities affected by unexpected or unexplained death.

"Already changes have been made to improve the experience of grieving families and communities," he said.

"This includes investment in the 2021-22 NSW State Budget to appoint an additional magistrate to the coronial jurisdiction and provide resourcing to the Coronial Case Management Unit to reduce delays and increase support for families."

Mr Speakman said it was important coronial processes were culturally safe and responsive to First Nations families.

NSW Bar Association President Gabrielle Bashir said the government was not taking action on significant reforms proposed by the review.

"This lack of action can only add to delays which cause considerable unnecessary distress to already grieving families," she said.

National Justice Project chief executive and principal solicitor George Newhouse said the government was protecting itself from scrutiny.

"The New South Wales government's commitments will come as a disappointment to many families who are seeking answers about the death of their loved ones," he said.

"Why doesn't the NSW Government want coroners to expose systemic discrimination in policing, prisons and healthcare.

"Because they don't want to accept responsibility, and they don't want the system to change.

"Common sense says that coroners should use their powers of investigation to prevent deaths â€" yet the NSW Government has ruled out even this simple recommendation to stop more needless deaths."

In its submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Coronial Jurisdiction, the National Justice Project called for the implementation of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, an independent investigative body into First Nations deaths in custody, the appointment of First Nations coroners, and the participation of First Nations communities in reforming the coronial system.


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