For the last three and a half years, since the death of young Yamatji woman, Ms Dhu, there has been a huge push to implement the Custody Notification Service (CNS).
The Custody Notification Service was a recommendation from the Coronial Inquest into the death of Ms Dhu, as well as the earlier Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody more than 25 years ago.
Many say the CNS can and has saved Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s lives, with no one dying in custody since the setup of a CNS in NSW and the ACT after the CNS has been used.
Officially announcing the news yesterday, West Australian Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Ben Wyatt says the government owes it to the Indigenous community to implement the service.
“Since the CNS was implemented in NSW in 2000, an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person has not died in police custody where the CNS has been contacted,” he said in a statement.
“I have no doubt that the CNS will reduce the number of preventable deaths in custody and deliver better justice outcomes for WA’s indigenous community
The Federal Government has agreed to fund the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) who will provide the notification service.
West Australian Police Commission, Michelle Roberts explained police will call a central number, which diverts the call to a roster solicitor.
“Police will provide the solicitor with details of the person in custody and why, how long they have been in custody, whether bail is likely and any other pertinent information such as whether the client is intoxicated,” she said.
“The solicitor undertakes a welfare check on the client and details any concerns in relation to physical and mental health, including risk of self-harm.”
Dennis Eggington is the CEO of Aboriginal Legal Service Western Australia he told NITV News all Indigenous West Australians will benefit from the CNS.
“The most remotes parts of WA will still have access to phones and police will be required to (call ALS),” he said.
“I’m confident that right across this state, wherever Aboriginal people and police are, and our people are getting locked up for whatever reason, we’ll know about that."
Mr Eggington says there are still risks of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people dying behind bars.
“Look, I’m sure that there will be mistakes made, there will be people who are so ill that they should be in hospital and not in custody, but I’m just hoping that this will really minimize those mistakes from happening,”
Deaths in Custody Watch Committee Chair Mervyn Eades, told NITV News the service has been long awaited.
“It’s great. Its long wanted and long needed and what it does mean is that our people will, anyone comes in in any condition, or anything at all, there’ll be health people notified for any health checks and that, as well as any legal presentation advice that they are in custody,” he said.
Since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, more than 340 people have died. Figures from 2013 stated Western Australia had 97 deaths in custody from 1988 to 2013.
Mr Eades said this statistic is why Western Australia has been in dire need of the CNS roll out.
“I think it mostly needed in WA than anywhere else in the country with the amount of deaths in custody that we have had in Western Australia,” he said.
“It has saved lives all over the country, where the custody notification has been implemented and it will also be a prevention tool and tragedy here in WA and I think it will actually save lives.”
The service will not impact the existing Aboriginal Visitors Scheme, which provides support and counselling to Aboriginal people in police or correctional custody.
Attorney General John Quigley said this was an “important service” and glad to see the roll out of the CNS.
The government says CNS will be implemented within the state by the end of the year, however, NITV understands it could be rolled out by the end of June.
The result of the five year Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody the final report was handed down in 1991. It gave over 330 recommendations to improve the criminal justice system and its interactions with Indigenous Australians though many have not been implemented.