• Protesters participate in a Black Lives Matter rally in Adelaide. (AAP)Source: AAP
Community organisations have welcomed the implementation of a custody notification service in South Australia, while the sister of Wayne Fella Morrison, who died in Yatala Prison in 2016, says she's she's 'overwhelmed' by the news.
Keira Jenkins

3 Jul 2020 - 12:20 PM  UPDATED 3 Jul 2020 - 12:43 PM

It will now be mandatory for South Australian Police to notify the state's Aboriginal Legal Service whenever an Indigenous person is taken into custody.

The introduction of a custody notification service (CNS) in the state was first recommended by the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The service is currently operating in a number of forms in all other states and territories except Tasmania.

The South Australian CNS will require police officers to notify a representative from the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement (ALRM) whenever an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is taken into custody.

ALRM CEO Cheryl Axelby said the body has been advocating for the state to implement a CNS since the federal government offered to help fund a service in every state in Territory in 2016.

"We've always said that having a mandatory custody notification service will help reduce Aboriginal deaths in custody," she said.

"It's very pleasing that the South Australian Government have taken some immediate steps to actually introduce a custody notification service."

Ms Axelby said while there has been an agreement for police to notify the legal service when Indigenous people were taken into custody, it was not always complied with.

She said legislating the service will give those in custody some consolation.

"I think it helps them feel a great deal of comfort that ALRM know that they are in custody." Ms Axleby said.


Latoya Rule's brother Wayne Fella Morrison died in police custody in South Australia's Yatala Prison in 2016.

She said she's moved by the news, that she says was a long time coming.

"I'm pretty overwhelmed at the fact that South Australia cares enough to actually implement a system that we've been calling for, for many years," Ms Rule said.

"My brother, Wayne died in custody in 2016, and some have said that something like a CNS could have saved his life. 

"It would have been more likely that his rights were taken seriously, his human rights were upheld."

Ms Rule said the recent focus on the Black Lives Matter movement and Indigenous deaths in custody has no doubt contributed to the timing of the decision by the state government.

"It's undeniable that this moment in time has contributed to SA moving on deaths in custody," she said.

"It's about a consideration by government and the general population to treat Aboriginal people humanely at the end of the day.

"But it has been years and years of struggle, seeing loved ones die in custody because their human rights, legal rights, medical rights weren't recognised."

'Power in numbers'

Ms Axelby agreed, saying rallies across the country have helped to shine a spotlight on the much-needed system in South Australia.

"When you see the power in the numbers of the people turning up to the rallies all around Australia, how could a government not take on board that they need to take some immediate action," she said.

But Ms Axelby said it's families of the people who have died in custody, like Ms Rule's family, that are forgotten in policy, and she said it's time to listen to what they have to say. 

"There's a lot of families that are still yet to receive justice or acknowledgement as to what's happened to their families," she said.

"The biggest mob that have missed out in all of this have been the families and we should never forget that.

"Looking forward we need to ensure that they have a place to have a say about how we can reduce our deaths going further but also we should be looking at what kind of compensation those families should be receiving going forward as well."

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