• A protest against deaths in custody outside WA parliament in 2014. (AAP)Source: AAP
It is now mandatory that WA police officers call the 24-hour hotline every time an Indigenous person is detained.
Rangi Hirini

2 Oct 2019 - 10:30 AM  UPDATED 2 Oct 2019 - 10:30 AM

A Custody Notification Service (CNS) has been launched Western Australia five years after the death-in-custody of Yamatji woman Ms Dhu.

It will operate 24 hours a day and will require WA police to call the hotline whenever an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is arrested. 

The service will also cover situations where an Indigenous person is detained under the mental health act, placed into protective custody or returned to jail for parole violations.

The first three years of operation has been funded by $2.25 million from the federal government and about $600,000 from the WA government.

The Aboriginal Legal Service of WA (ALSWA) is operating the service.

The organisation's CEO, Dennis Eggington, said the primary objective were to reduce the death-in-custody rate and protect the health and wellbeing of Indigenous people. 

In a statement, he said: “It’s an absolute tragedy that over 400 of our people have died in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC).  Most of those deaths occurred in Western Australia.” 

Mr Eggington said that the example set in New South Wales, which introduced a CNS 18 years ago, showed that it was a "lifesaving service".

Paying with her life: Justice for Julieka Dhu
A young Aboriginal woman lies dying in agony on the floor of a police lock-up while officers laugh, mock her as a “junkie” and accuse her of “faking” her fatal illness. How can this still be happening in Australia, 25 years after the report of the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody was supposed to put an end to it?

The CNS hotline team consists of a team of five lawyers, two of them identify as Aboriginal. The service is available for adults and children who have been taken into custody.

A CNS lawyer or support worker will determine their immediate health, welfare and legal needs. The ALSWA CNS unit has received training which covers relevant cultural, legal and mental health issues.

WA Police Minister Michelle Roberts said the service was a “long overdue” safeguard.

“The CNS will ensure that Aboriginal people taken into custody receive appropriate welfare checks and have proper legal representation at the earliest opportunity,” she said in a statement.

“It’s a tragedy that it has taken so long for Western Australia to implement such an important measure.”

WA Attorney-General John Quigley said the CNS rollout follows one of the recommendations from the coronial investigation into the death-in-custody of Ms Dhu.

“Ms Dhu should never have been in custody and she should never have died in custody," he said in a statement.

"Had there been a custody notification service in place, I believe that her tragic death in custody would have been avoided."