04.08.17 THREE YEARS SINCE THE DEATH OF MS DHU – A WAKEUP CALL FOR A RENEWED APPROACH TO JUSTICE

THREE YEARS SINCE THE DEATH OF MS DHU – A WAKEUP CALL FOR A RENEWED APPROACH TO JUSTICE  

Today marks three years since Yamatji woman Ms Dhu died in custody after being detained for unpaid fines.

The anniversary of her death is a reminder of the limitations of our justice system and a wakeup call on the need for alternatives for custodial sentencing and reform of the fine process.

On the 2nd of August 2014, Ms Dhu was detained at South Hedland Police Station for $3,622 in unpaid fines.

On the 4th of August 2014, she was pronounced dead.

She was 22 years old.

Miss Dhu died from septicemia and pneumonia from an infection in a broken rib.

The penalty for unpaid fines should not be death.

And death should not be the penalty for any offence, in any jail, anywhere in Australia.

This week, the Law Council of Australia launched The Justice Project. I welcome the Law Council of Australia’s comprehensive national investigation into Australia's access to justice crisis.

Speaking to the West Australian today, Attorney-General John Quigley announced new approaches are under consideration which aim to tackle Western Australia’s death in custody crisis:

  • A 24-hour on-call legal service for Indigenous people in custody
  • Changes to sentencing aimed at reducing the number of people jailed for fine defaulting

Attorney-General John Quigley also said the State had received another offer from Canberra to fund a custody notification service, which would require the police to call the hotline whenever an Aboriginal person was arrested.

These are steps in the right direction. But we have a long way to go in addressing WA’s incarceration crisis and in ensuring we do not see another preventable death in custody.

Ms Dhu’s death came 25 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The story of Ms Dhu tells us that the 339 recommendations of the Royal Commission have not been implemented in Western Australia. We cannot ignore the profound lack of duty of care in Western Australia’s justice system.

The Turnbull Government should commit to introducing national justice targets under the Closing the Gap framework.

Ms Dhu’s family are still seeking the justice they have been denied.  

Nothing can undo the injustice and pain Ms Dhu and her family have suffered – but Ms Dhu’s life will count.

My thoughts are with her family today.

FRIDAY, 4 AUGUST 2017

 

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