WA adopts custody hotline in wake of Dhu

Western Australia is joining the other states and territories that have notification services to provide legal advice and welfare checks for all Aboriginal people taken into police custody.

When the service is up and running this year, WA Police will be required to call a central number that diverts to the phone of a rostered lawyer, who will then carry out a welfare check and provide legal advice to the person in custody.

The Custodial Notification System will not impact on WA’s Aboriginal Visitors Scheme, which provides support and counselling to Aboriginal people in police or correctional custody but is not a mandatory notification service and does not provide legal advice, the WA Government said.

The CNS is being funded by the Federal Government, which is providing the money directly to the Aboriginal Legal Service in WA.

It follows a coronial report last year into the 2014 death of Ms Dhu, a 22-year-old woman whose first name is not used for cultural reasons who was detained at the South Hedland Police Station in WA’s north for unpaid fines of $3622.

The inquest found she suffered a catastrophic deterioration in her health during her three days in police custody and died of complications from septicaemia.

“This is an important service which would already be operating in WA had the former Liberal-National Government not rejected the Federal Government’s offer to fund the service,” WA Attorney-General John Quigley said.

“The coronial inquest into the tragic death of Ms Dhu recommended that the State Government give consideration to establishing a state-wide service to operate 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

“This distressing case drew national attention to the plight of Indigenous people in custody in WA.

“More recently the case of Gene Gibson, who spent almost five years in prison after being interviewed without a translator, highlights the predicament of Indigenous people intersecting with the WA Police and justice services.”

Saving lives

Mr Quigley said the CNS was expected to reduce Indigenous incarceration and remand rates.

The ALS in WA said the service would save lives.

“This is wonderful news that follows on from negotiations between ALSWA and the State Government and our submission to the Commonwealth to fund a custody notification service in WA,” ALSWA chief executive officer Dennis Eggington said.

WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said since the CNS was implemented in New South Wales in 2000 there had been no deaths in those cases where the CNS had been contacted.

“We owe it to our Indigenous community to introduce this important service,” he said.

WA Police Minister Michelle Roberts said the state’s police force supported the new service.

Other states and territories with a notification service include NSW, the ACT and Victoria.

Wendy Caccetta

 

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