Politics

WA Is Finally Taking Steps To Help Prevent Indigenous Deaths In Custody

Almost 30 years after a Royal Commission called for it, WA is getting the life-saving service.

After years of pressure and campaigning, Western Australia is finally getting a custody notification service to help prevent Indigenous deaths in police custody.

Under the new system, which will be up and running before the end of the year, WA police will be required to call a 24-hour legal hotline whenever they arrest an Indigenous person. That hotline will be staffed by solicitors who will perform a welfare check and provide free legal advice to the person in custody.

That’s a system with the power to save lives, with just a phone call. A mandatory custody notification service was one of the recommendations of the inquest into the 2014 death of Ms. Dhu, a 22-year-old Indigenous woman who died while being held in police custody over unpaid fines. She died after police ignored her saying she was feeling unwell, assuming she was faking it. Her grandmother has said she believes a custody notification service would have saved Ms. Dhu’s life.

A nationwide custody notification service was also a recommendation of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, but only NSW and the ACT complied at the time. Western Australia has previously refused to let the federal government fund the service, but finally accepted the offer yesterday.

“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,” 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.”

“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.”

WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt also welcomed the new service.

“Since the CNS was implemented in NSW in 2000, an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person has not died in police custody where the CNS has been contacted,” he said.

“We owe it to our indigenous community to introduce this important service.”