: DUAO - Vol 40(3)

DUAO - 2015 - Vol 40(3)

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Developments around the country

DownUnderAllOver is a round-up of legal news from both State and federal jurisdictions, and contains topical articles and short pieces from Alternative Law Journal committees around the country.

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Coronial inquests

Steven Castan
Western Australia

Following up our DUAO story — AltLJ 39(4) — on the tragic death in custody of Miss Dhu in a South Hedland Police Station, 
a coronial inquest has been announced that will run from 
23 November to 4 December 2015.

Miss Dhu, aged 22, died on 4 August last year after being held at South Hedland Police Station for four days reportedly over unpaid fines totalling approximately $1000. After complaining of not feeling well, Miss Dhu was transported to the Hedland Health Campus three times. Twice she was sent back after being declared fit for incarceration and returned to her cell but on the third visit was pronounced dead.

The family has mounted a vocal public campaign for answers as to how Miss Dhu died while in custody and after being examined by doctors. Rallies and days of action have been held across Australia, including the latest one on 4 August 2015 in Geraldton. The family are relieved that an inquest has been set down for this year but have also been calling for an independent enquiry into Miss Dhu’s death. An enquiry has been rejected by WA Attorney General, Michael Mischin, who has said that he believes the state’s coroner’s court is the appropriate body for running an investigation.

The inquest will be held in South Hedland.

(2015) 40(3) AltLJ 215

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Mental illness and incarceration

Steven Castan
Western Australia

WA Legal Aid lawyers have expressed concern that mentally ill people are being misdiagnosed and needlessly sent to prison, particularly in regional Western Australia.

Mental health assessments are being carried out remotely and by video link and, according to Derek Hunter of Legal Aid, this has resulted in errors being made. Assessments are crucial in making appropriate sentencing and bail decisions and Mr Hunter stated ‘time constraints are such that in my experience there has been inaccuracies in information presented, which is critical that information is as accurate and thorough as possible.” He added, that “[it] would be a more thorough and comprehensive report taking into account not just what’s said on phone or by video, but a face-to-face scenario.’

The problem has come to a head recently when the Bunbury Children’s Court heard in a matter that there was no option for an assessment of a child’s mental health to be carried out in Bunbury. The child had committed a violent crime. The magistrate in the matter, Dianne Scaddan noted that there was no ability for a medical doctor to assess the child in the Bunbury court or in any country court. The boy was remanded to Banksia Hill detention centre, where a psychiatrist could assess him, which was not considered ideal.

In WA there is legislation in place that assigns specific regional hospitals the authority to make mental health assessments and admit people under hospital orders if deemed mentally unfit. Mr Hunter states that in his ten years of practice in Bunbury, he has not seen one client assessed locally.

The Mental Health Minister, Helen Morton agrees that across the state mental health assessments are not available and in most cases due to the specialised nature of the assessments, they are resulting in transfers to Perth. She is happy with the existing video link system in ‘straightforward cases’. It remains to be seen if reform in this area will be made to prevent what Mr Hunter

says is the unnecessary jailing of people with mental health issues instead of assessing and treating them in appropriate facilities.

(2015) 40(3) AltLJ 215

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International

Gill Boehringer

Attacks on lawyers occur around the globe. The International Association of People’s Lawyers Monitoring Committee has found 83 countries, including Australia, where such attacks, physical and non-physical, have occurred. In this, and subsequent issues, we will present some examples of what is being done to interfere with lawyers, in the pursuit of justice, human and environmental rights in a neo-liberal globalised world.

Azerbaijan (2014) A practice has developed whereby lawyers defending human rights cases are removed from the defence team because the prosecution says they will be called as a witness and would then have a conflict of interest. In one case, involving a leading human rights lawyer and activist who was in jail, several of her lawyers were removed from the case using this ploy. In the same case, another lawyer was removed, and later disbarred, because of his ‘behaviour in court’. A third lawyer was removed and sentenced to 250 hours of community service for allegedly committing libel. In another case, a lawyer for human rights activists and journalists critical of the government, was removed from a high profile case involving a leading journalist detained and charged with treason, espionage and tax evasion. The removal followed a recommendation from the government controlled Azerbaijan Bar Association that he be disbarred for ‘breaching professional ethics’ by questioning the fairness of the court’s decision to imprison his client. Recently a highly respected human rights lawyer and the Director of a Legal Education Society was sent to prison for seven years. The charges: tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship and abuse of power.

(2015) 40(3) AltLJ 215

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