: Deaths in Custody

Deaths in Custody

Steven Castan
Western Australia

The 25th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was marked by many marches and protests around the country. One such protest, organised by the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, was held in the Perth CBD on 15 April 2016, calling for more action to be taken by the WA government.

The timing coincided within a few weeks of the final sitting days of the high profile inquest into the death of Ms Dhu, a 22-year-old Yamaji woman who died in custody in a South Hedland lockup while in detention for fine default.

A spokeswoman for the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, Hannah McGlade, said they were marching to remember the more than 355 Aboriginal people who have died in custody since the Royal Commission handed down its report.

The group marched from the Supreme Court Garden along the city streets to the Perth Magistrates Court where they conducted a 'Die-in'.

Ms McGlade said the die-in was to represent the lives that have been lost. 'These are real people who had lives ahead of them,' she said. 'Ms Dhu was a young woman, she simply needed medical attention and she cried out for that. She was treated in the most inhumane manner.'

Nigel Scullion, Indigenous Affairs minister, said that on the anniversary it was 'important to acknowledge the progress that has occurred to reduce Indigenous deaths in custody' but human rights groups quickly reacted to this statement.

Amnesty International said the Minister's statement failed to recognise the increasing Indigenous imprisonment rate, and the organisation maintains there had been 'no overall drop in the reported number of Indigenous deaths in custody'.

Indigenous peoples' rights campaigner for Amnesty International, Julian Cleary, argued the Minister was wrong to characterise that as 'success' and he was 'disguising' the true situation.

The Coroner will hand down her findings and recommendations in the Dhu inquest later this year.

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

(2016) 41(2) AltLJ 141
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