• April 15, 2011: protest march in Perth to mark the 20th anniversary of the handing down of the report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. (AAP)Source: AAP
Twenty-five years after the findings of the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody were handed down, there are still calls for most of the recommendations to be implemented. Learn more about the origins and timeline of the Royal Commission here.
26 Sep 2013 - 4:38 PM  UPDATED 15 Apr 2016 - 1:40 PM

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that this article contains names and images of deceased people.


September 1983

John Pat, a 16-year-old boy, dies in police custody in Roebourne, Western Australia, after being beaten to death by a group of off-duty, drunk police officers. There is a public outcry following his death. 

August 1987

Lloyd Boney is found dead in a police cell in Brewarrina, NSW. His death is regarded as the catalyst for the Royal Commission, as Prime Minister Bob Hawke orders a Royal Commission to investigate Aboriginal deaths that had occurred in State and Territory jails.

It is to investigate all deaths in custody between January 1980 and May 1989.

WARNING: This video contains images of deceased people. They include Eddie Murray, John Pat, Robert Walker, Charlie Michaels, Tony King, Dixon Green, Lloyd James Boney, Alfred Daniel Yock, Cameron Doomadgee – all of whom died in police custody.

April 1991

The Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody delivers 339 recommendations, including:

12: A Coroner inquiring into a death in custody be required by law to investigate not only the cause and circumstances of the death but also the quality of the care, treatment and supervision of the deceased prior to death.

60b. That Police Services take all possible steps to eliminate the use of racist or offensive language, or the use of racist or derogatory comments in log books and other documents, by police officers.

92. That governments which have not already done so should legislate to enforce the principle that imprisonment should be utilised only as a sanction of last resort.

To find out more about the findings of the royal commission, click here.


The Deaths in Custody Watch Committee in Western Australia is set up by a coalition of concerned parties. Its aim is to monitor and work to ensure the effective implementation of the findings from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody.

April 1994

Protesters in Sydney and Brisbane renew their calls for the Australian government to adopt the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Indigenous community leaders claim the recent Criminal Justice Commission report into the  death of Aboriginal dancer Daniel Yock in Brisbane is a "whitewash".

Deaths in custody: More transparency needed by government, says Amnesty International
Indigenous deaths in custody are shrouded in a lack of transparency, says Amnesty International as it releases its annual report.

October 1996

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner prepares a report on the 96 deaths in custody since 1989 and presents it to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

It finds that each death in custody breached, on average, 8.5 of the recommendations made in the Royal Commission Report.

November 2004

Cameron Doomadgee is arrested for swearing and less than an hour later is found dead in his cell, sparking riots on Palm Island. It is the 147th death since the handing down of the Royal Commission Report. Manslaughter charges are laid against Chris Hurley though he is later acquitted, making him the first police officer to appear before a court in relation to an Indigenous death in custody.

January 2008

Mr Ward dies of heatstroke after collapsing in the back of a police van that was transporting him in 42°C. A coronial inquest finds that the two guards, the company in charge of prison transportation and the WA Department of Corrective Service contributed to his death and his family receives a $3.6 million compensation payout from the WA Government.


An Australian Indigenous Law Review study shows that Australian states and territories have only acted on a fraction of the coronial recommendations of the Report.

September 2013

The Western Australian Government is asked to apologise to the family of teenager John Pat. The Parliament agrees to make a formal apology to the family. [Remembering John Pat]

julieka dhu case
Julieka Dhu case shows we haven't learnt lessons from Deaths in Custody Royal Commission: Law expert
With the inquest into Ms Dhu’s death in custody finished, Dr Thalia Anthony says that 25 years from the Royal Commission Aboriginal people are still being imprisoned for the wrong reason.

August 2014

Ms Dhu dies in a WA hospital, three days after she was arrested for unpaid fines. A coronial inquest finds she died of septicaemia and pneumonia and criticised both the police officers and the health service involved.

Lawyers involved in the case claimed that if the recommendations of the Royal Commission Report had been implemented Miss Dhu would not have died.

November 2015

The High Court of Australia upholds the Northern Territory’s paperless arrest laws after the Territory coroner branded the laws 'manifestly unfair' and disproportionately targeted Indigenous Australians.

Mr Langdon died in custody of heart failure after being arrested under the scheme.

The Numbers

According to the most recent publication by the Australian Institute of Criminology, 16 per cent of all deaths in custody between 2011 and 2013 across Australia were Aboriginal (15 of 95 deaths), a sharp fall from the number of deaths recorded in the 80s and in the 90s.

Recommended reading
Royal commission into deaths in custody 25th anniversary: What's changed?
April marks 25 years since a royal commission presented a formula to prevent Aboriginal deaths in police custody. But how much has changed?

'Who Killed Malcolm Smith?' is a must-see film about deaths in custody
On the anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, this film is more relevant than ever.

For a concise set of infographics detailing the rate of deaths in custody from the Royal Commission until now, head HERE