• The Victorian Coroners Court has announced an 'overhaul' of investigations into Indigenous deaths in custody. (AAP)Source: AAP
Victoria's Coroners Court announces an overhaul of investigations into Indigenous deaths in custody, but not everyone is convinced the measures will make a difference to families going through a coronial process.
Keira Jenkins

22 Sep 2020 - 2:41 PM  UPDATED 22 Sep 2020 - 6:54 PM

Investigations into Indigenous deaths in custody will be fast-tracked as part of an overhaul announced by Victoria's Coroners Court.

Coroners will immediately attend the scene of a death in custody and a specialist Koori court officer will meet grieving families.

An initial court hearing will also be held within 28 days of a death in custody.

Also under the changes, the investigating coroner will be briefed on relevant cultural issues surrounding the death within 48 hours of a death.

These considerations can include investigators obtaining witness statements outside of a police station, allowing a support person to be present, and ensuring the collection of evidence such as CCTV footage as early as possible.

The coroner's legal counsel must also make contact with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service to facilitate advice for families on their rights in relation to the coronial process.

Koori Engagement Unit manager at the Coroners Court of Victoria, Troy Williamson, said the changes are designed to give Indigenous families a greater voice and culturally appropriate support.

"These reforms will reduce the trauma experienced by Aboriginal families as they deal with the grief of losing a loved one while navigating the coronial system," Mr Williamson said.

But some were not convinced that the measures announced by the Coroners Court would make a difference to families who are dealing with the loss of someone in custody.

As well as changes to investigation procedures, the measures announced by the coroners court say hearings will be conducted in a "culturally appropriate manner".

This means acknowledgement of Country and smoking ceremonies will be conducted and "culturally significant items" like possum-skin cloaks and didgeridoos can be displayed in a court room.

State coroner John Cain said the new measures will make the court a "safer and more supportive place' for Indigenous families".

"The court has an important role in independently investigating Indigenous deaths in custody – how we carry out this duty must recognise and respect the cultural needs of the families affected," he said.

On social media, some called for more to be done to address the 'racial violence' experienced by Indigenous people during coronial processes.

The changes in Victoria follow the coronial inquest into the death of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day, who died in police custody in 2017.

Since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991 more than 440 Indigenous people have died in custody.

Watch house officer suspended over the death of Sherry Fisher-Tilberoo
The Queensland Police Service suspends City Watch House officer over the recent death in custody of Birri Gubba woman, Sherry Fisher-Tilberoo.