: Deaths in custody

Deaths in custody

Steven Castan
Western Australia

An aboriginal woman died in custody in the Pilbara region on Monday 4 August 2014 after complaining of feeling unwell and being taken to hospital three times over the weekend. Medical staff provided a ‘medical fitness to be held in custody’ certificate before she was returned to the lockup, yet she still died in custody.

This has raised the issue in some quarters as to why WA does not have the same 24/7 Custody Notification Service system as NSW, which would have meant that someone from the Aboriginal Legal Service would have attended the lock-up (and probably the hospital) and would have assisted the police in relation to this woman’s needs. Perhaps this advocacy on her behalf may have resulted in the woman’s health and welfare needs being met, and the death prevented. The Custody Notification Service is reported to have had improved results in terms of reducing police house watch deaths for Aboriginal detainees. Commentators, in the wake of another death in custody, are urging the Australian government to roll out this service nationally.

STEVEN CASTAN is a WA-based barrister and nationally accredited mediator.

(2014) 39(3) AltLJ 201
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