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A Custody Notification Scheme (CNS) is a 24-hour legal advice and support telephone hotline for any Australian Aboriginal person brought into custody, connecting them with lawyers from the Aboriginal Legal Service. It is intended to reduce the high number of Aboriginal deaths in custody by counteracting the effects of institutional racism.

A protest calling for reform to prevent Aboriginal deaths in custody.

The implementation of a CNS in all Australian states and territories was recommendation 224[1] of the 339 recommendations of the 1991 Australian Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report. Most states and territories did not comply. About 340 Aboriginal people died in custody between the recommendation being made in 1991 and 2015.[2] Between 1991 and 2019, over 400 Aboriginal people have died in custody.[3]

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) brought in a CNS in 1995.[4][better source needed] New South Wales (NSW) brought in a CNS in 2000. It was highly successful and has since been cited as a model.[3] In 2016, one Aboriginal person died in custody in NSW; this was the first time an Aboriginal person had died in custody in NSW or the ACT since the CNSs were implemented.[5][3] Police failed to notify the CNS, rather than there being any problem with the service itself.[5][6]

In May 2016, a report recommended that Western Australia stop jailing people for unpaid fines. The report mentioned the death of Ms Dhu. The report was authored by Neil Morgan, Inspector of Custodial Services.[7] In October 2016 Nigel Scullion, the federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, offered to fund the first three years of implementation for any state that legislated a CNS. The Western Australian government rejected the offer.[8] In March 2017, Dhu's family criticised both the major political parties in Western Australia for not supporting such a scheme. The incumbent Liberal Party voiced their opposition to the program, while the Labor Party said they would consider the scheme though had made no commitments.[6]

In October 2017, the Australian federal government was reported to be urging states and territories to implement a CNS. Attorney-General of Western Australia John Quigley supported such a program, saying "I think it [is] life-saving legislation. I'm sure if they took the late Ms Dhu into custody ... if the Aboriginal Legal Service [had] been contacted on day one it would have been a very different outcome." An online petition calling for the scheme was signed by almost 20,000 people in less than one week.[5]

On 21 May 2018, it was announced that the WA state government had reconsidered the offer from the federal government to fund a CNS, and that the service would be operational by the end of the year. The Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia will operate the service.[9][10][11] As of 29 August the system has not been implemented due to inadequate funding, though negotiations for funding were ongoing, with John Quigley saying he hoped the service would be operational soon.[12] In November 2018 it was announced the service would be operational in the first half of 2019. The service will cost $952,000 per year, with the Federal Government and State Government contributing $750,000 and $202,000 respectively. ALSWA will employ five lawyers and two support staff to run the service.[13]

In 2018, the Northern Territory agreed to implement a CNS.[12] The system attracted criticism for exempting protective custody and paperless arrests; for such arrests, police are not required to notify the CNS. There had previously been deaths in NT following exempted types of arrests. There are reports that the CNS legislation was substantially drafted by the police.[3]

In some states, police have successfully argued for provisions in police operational manuals rather than legislation.[3]

Victoria has some non-legislative CNS-like requirements in Victoria Police Manual’s instruction 113-1.[3] The notifications are known as known as E* Justice Notifications.[14] As of 2018, Victoria was expected to be the next state to legislate a CNS, with a proposed law being reviewed by the legislature.[12]

In 2018, representatives from South Australian and Queensland argued they already had their own adequate systems in place, while Tasmania said they were considering the system but had not made a decision.[12]

Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in CustodyDeath of Ms Dhu

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Towards Social Justice? An Issues Paper". austlii.edu.au. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  2. ^ Wahlquist, Calla (5 December 2015). "Family re-live pain as Ms Dhu inquest searches for answers over death in custody". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 7 April 2018. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Marks, Russell (14 June 2019). "Custody battle". Inside Story. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  4. ^ "Additional Comments by Labor Senators". www.aph.gov.au. Commonwealth Parliament (Canberra, Australia). Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  5. ^ a b c Higgins, Isabella (11 October 2017). "States urged to back 'life-saving' policy to prevent Indigenous deaths in custody". ABC News. Archived from the original on 8 April 2018. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  6. ^ a b Wahlquist, Calla (9 March 2017). "Indigenous groups criticise Liberals and Labor in WA over custody policies". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 8 April 2018. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  7. ^ Turner, Rebecca (20 May 2016). "Scrapping jail for fine defaulters will not tackle WA prison overcrowding, report finds". ABC News. Archived from the original on 8 April 2018. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  8. ^ Wahlquist, Calla (20 September 2017). "Ms Dhu's family gets $1.1m payment and state apology over death in custody". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 8 April 2018. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  9. ^ "WA adopts custody hotline in wake of Dhu". National Indigenous Times. 30 May 2018. Archived from the original on 20 June 2018.
  10. ^ Coade, Melissa (4 June 2018). "WA's new 24-hour welfare line to reduce Aboriginal deaths in custody". Lawyer's Weekly. Archived from the original on 20 June 2018. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  11. ^ Langford, Sam (22 May 2018). "WA Is Finally Taking Steps To Help Prevent Indigenous Deaths In Custody". Junkee. Archived from the original on 20 June 2018. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  12. ^ a b c d Wahlquist, Call; Allam, Lorena (29 August 2018). "States failing to take up lifesaving phone service for Indigenous prisoners". Guardian Australia. Archived from the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
  13. ^ "Joint media statement – Custody Notification Service a step closer to implementation in WA". Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia Limited. 23 November 2018. Archived from the original on 4 November 2018.
  14. ^ "Criminal Law | VALS". vals.org.au. Retrieved 21 June 2018.