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Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) (1987–1991) was a Royal Commission appointed by the Australian Government in October 1987 to study and report upon the underlying social, cultural and legal issues behind the deaths in custody of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, in the light of the high level of such deaths.

The Commission was conducted under the Commission of Inquiry (Deaths in Custody) Act 1987 as amended on 15 June 1988 and 15 June 1989. The inquiry into the deaths of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders after an arrest or conviction, whether by suicide, natural causes, medical conditions, or injuries caused by police. The terms of reference for the inquiry limited it to such deaths between 1 January 1980 and 31 May 1989.

The Commission comprised 5 Commissioners: Patrick Dodson, D.J. O'Dea, Hal Wootten, AC, QC, L.F. Wyvill, QC and Elliott Johnston, QC. Hal Wootten was a former judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales;[1] and Elliott Johnston was a judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia.

Aboriginal activist Rob Riley was appointed Head of the Aboriginal Issues Unit of the Commission until Ruby Hammond was appointed to the position in 1990.[2]

The Commission investigated 99 cases of Aboriginal deaths in custody between 1 January 1980 and 31 May 1989, including the death of rugby player Eddie Murray in 1981 at the Wee Waa police station,[3] and the death of John Pat at Roebourne, Western Australia in 1983, of which commissioner Elliott Johnston was critical of the lack of any disciplinary charges against five officers implicated in the violent death of the 16-year-old Aboriginal boy—calling this "a most unsatisfactory state of affairs".[4]

The final report of the Commission[5] was published in April 1991. The Commission concluded that the 99 deaths investigated[6] were not due to police violence:[7]

"... the immediate causes of the deaths do not include foul play, in the sense of unlawful, deliberate killing of Aboriginal prisoners by police and prison officers. More than one-third of the deaths (37) were from disease; 30 were self-inflicted hangings; 23 were caused by other forms of external trauma, especially head injuries; and 9 were immediately associated with dangerous alcohol and other drug use. Indeed, heavy alcohol use was involved in some way in deaths in each of these categories. The chapter concludes that glaring deficiencies existed in the standard of care afforded to many of the deceased."

A related issue, not investigated by the Commission, is the disproportionately high number of Indigenous Australians who come under some form of custody or who are imprisoned under the law. One of the outcomes of the Commission was the establishment of a National Deaths in Custody Monitoring and Research Program at the Australian Institute of Criminology.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Swan, Jonathan (14 November 2012). "Wootten warns of unrealistic hopes for finding closure". Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media.
  2. ^ Buti (1999). "International law obligations to provide reparations for human rights abuses". Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law. 6 (4).
  3. ^ Indigenous Law Resources, Reconciliation and Social Justice Library. "Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody". Retrieved 31 March 2014.
  4. ^ John Peter Pat - 14.1.2 An Overview Royal Commission report, at Indigenous Law Resources,
  5. ^ Reports of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
  6. ^ a b ABS: Year Book Australia, 2012
  7. ^ "National Report Volume 1 - Chapter 3 The Findings of the Commissioners as to the Deaths". Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. AustLII Reconciliation and Social Justice Library. 1998. Retrieved 17 May 2006.

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