Lawyers for 26-year-old Yamatji (Nhanada / Wadjari) woman Kearah Ronan have called on the WA Attorney General to make a full public apology and take urgent steps to address a system that allows magistrates to issue bench warrants to arrest victims of domestic violence.
Last month, Ms Ronan was arrested, strip-searched and incarcerated in a Perth Police Watch House overnight for "failing to obey a witness summons" that related to her giving evidence against an abusive former partner.
A young mother, Ms Ronan was also six-months pregnant when she voluntarily attended Kiara police station on May 3 after learning that an arrest warrant had been issued against her.
Ms Ronan, who had been set to give evidence at Midland Magistrates court on January 21 against her former partner, had previously notified the court registry to let them know she would be unable to attend due to illness and was informed by the registry the case would not be heard until October.
Despite these assurances, on May 3 the Magistrate ordered an arrest warrant against her after it was requested by the police prosecutor.
In a statement to NITV News today, Adj Prof said Ms Ronan deserves a public apology from the state's Attorney General for what happened to her.
"Arresting the alleged victim of a violent crime and holding them in a police lock up is something that should not be permitted. You only have to look at the case of Ms Dhu to see the disastrous impacts of locking up victims of domestic violence," Mr Newhouse said in today's statement.
“In situations where the victims of an alleged crime are going to be arrested and locked up there need to be substantial checks on the prosecutors who ask for these kinds of warrants and there should be strict protocols that Magistrates must consider before they issue them”
Adj Prof Newhouse said that he “thanked the Attorney General on behalf of Kearah for taking her complaint seriously” but added that the A-G needed to take steps to ensure "that no victim or alleged victim of gender-based violence has to experience a night in a police lock up again”.
“Pregnant women or women with young children should never be held in a lock up particularly when they voluntarily present themselves to police and they are not accused of a crime,” he said.
Adj Prof Newhouse said Ms Ronan – a pregnant Aboriginal mother who is the alleged victim of gender-based violence – did the right thing and presented herself to a police station after police told her mother that they were looking for her.
"When she voluntarily attended the station, the police officers told Kearah that they had to arrest her and keep her overnight because there were no magistrates who they could bring her to before then," he said.
In the same statement Ms Ronan said she did nothing wrong and "did not deserve to be treated like a criminal".
"I was pregnant and had a young child at home," she said. "It was humiliating. Even the police were apologising to me for locking me up.”
Adj Prof Newhouse said Ms Ronan always intended to attend court and did not want to have the charges against her former partner dropped as she wanted to stand up against domestic violence.
Ms Ronan said she wants to see more protection for women in such situations: “I would like to see more protections for the victims of domestic violence like the use of video evidence and not having to confront their abuser in court”.
In a statement, WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said Ms Ronan’s arrest was “regrettable”.
“Kiara Police were apologetic on the night and explained to Ms Ronan the law gave them no option,” he said.
“The warrant commands police to carry out an arrest and the State law expressly sets out that police face disciplinary action if they don’t make the arrest,” he said.
On May 3, MS Ronan was notified by her mother that an arrest warrant was out against her after police pulled her mother over while she was driving Ms Ronan’s car.
“I thought it was completely bizarre,” Ms Ronan told NITV News.
“I said, 'well I’ll go and pick up my daughter from school, and I’ll go and bring her home and then I’ll go and sort it out.'”
When Ms Ronan attended the police station on Friday afternoon, she was informed the warrant was valid and arrested on the spot. She said the police were apologetic but because the warrant was a legally binding document they had to hold her under arrest.
“That was quite a shock to me, it was hard to acknowledge that I was under arrest and that I was the criminal in the matter and I was being treated as such, I was visibly distraught and I’m quite soft so I was crying,” she said.
Ms Ronan told NITV News she was concerned about having to spend the night away from her four-year-old daughter and the well-being of her unborn child.
"Being pregnant, you know, we have more needs during our pregnancies. It was just very very distressing and I was quite humiliated and I felt like my dignity was taken then and there in the station," she said.
At the time of her incarceration, Ms Ronan was 20 weeks pregnant and said her bump was visible through her clothing. Apart from a stale bread roll, she also alleged she was not fed during her 17-hour lock up.
“I was cautious of bacterial infections and such, and [the police] just said to me, 'it’s not a hotel, you get what you’re given.' It was quite distressing,” she said.
Ms Ronan said she was held at the watch house from 5pm to 10am the following morning. When she was able to appear in court for the 'witness summons' matter, the case was over in five minutes.
“I don’t think the time in the watch-house warranted the 5 minutes in court," she said. "It was just bizarre. It’s the first time that I was aware of this type of thing happening.”