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Lawyers representing family of Ms Dhu to meet with WA government over compensation

Giovanni Torre -

Lawyers representing the estate of the late Julieka Dhu, who died in police custody in 2014, will be in Perth from next Wednesday 6 March to participate in a mediation with the West Australian government to see whether the claims of the family for compensation can be resolved.

Ms Dhu was an indigenous woman who had been a victim of domestic violence and died after three days in custody from septicaemia caused by untreated fractured ribs.

A case brought in the Federal Court in Perth by Levitt Robinson Solicitors alleges Ms Dhu was cruelly treated by West Australian police, and medical staff, disrespected and dehumanised on racial grounds in contravention of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Levitt Robinson Solicitors senior partner, Stewart Levitt, has claimed in collateral class action proceedings on behalf of co-lead applicant Keenan Dickie, that the State of Western Australia's enforcement of fines by incarcerating fine defaulters arbitrarily, without regard to their personal circumstances or family defendants, disproportionately impacted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

Mr Levitt said the Western Australian government "had ample information of the deleterious effects of what it was doing".

"The West Australian Law Society, academics, and parliamentarians had advocated for the end of imprisonment as a mechanism for fines enforcement because of what it was doing to Aboriginal families. The government persisted for many years, until it caved on 29 September 2020," he said.

Mr Levitt said he was aware of cases "where women were taken by police from their homes to jail, to serve out their fines, without notice and without an opportunity for arrangements to be put in place for the care of their dependent children".

"In the meantime, thousands of people had been jailed virtually without notice. 64 per cent of the female prison population was Indigenous, and 43 per cent of the male population."

"Since only 3.3 per cent of the population was indigenous, and roughly half male and half female, this means that indigenous men were 26 times overrepresented, and indigenous women were 39 times overrepresented."

Mr Levitt urged all Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders who were picked up and incarcerated as fine defaulters, even if they were refused bail because of outstanding fines, to register with Levitt Robinson as group members in the class action.

Compensation for imprisoned for unpaid fines is being sought, and a team of lawyers from Levitt Robinson will be available to speak to victims, either over the phone or in person, over the next six weeks.

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