Cross-party support for fundamental reforms to address First Nations deaths in custody

Australian Greens

The NSW Parliament has today handed down a long awaited report into First Nations Deaths in Custody, setting out a pathway to far-reaching reforms to the criminal justice system and calling for an independent statutory body to oversight all deaths in custody. Of critical importance to this report is the fact that the great majority of its recommendations have support of MPs from across the political spectrum with the great bulk of its outcomes being unanimous.

The advocacy of families who have lost loved ones to deaths in custody and the groundswell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement was critical to the establishment of this inquiry and to the strength of the recommendations that flowed.

Today marks 30 years since the handing down of the groundbreaking recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and tragically too many of its recommendations remain outstanding. Since that time more than 450 further First Nations deaths have occurred in custody across the country and Parliaments must now respond to this as a genuine crisis with urgent and far reaching reforms of the criminal justice system.

The 39 recommendations in this report must not join the long list of other recommendations and reports that have gathered dust waiting for the political courage to implement them. The true test of today’s report will be the laws that have been changed, the lives that have been saved in the next 12 months as the recommendations are implemented by the NSW Parliament.

The full report and all recommendations are here:

Greens MP David Shoebridge, who moved the motion to establish the inquiry, said:

“Today I give my respect to those First Nations families who have lost loved ones to the criminal justice system, who have had the courage and strength to stand up and demand justice, they have made this happen.

“There is a fundamental breakdown in trust between First Nations communities and the criminal justice system and that message was sent loud and clear in almost every submission to the inquiry.

“Fundamental to re-establishing trust is the recommendation that all deaths in custody must be investigated and oversighted by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission an independent statutory body, independent of the police and corrective services.

“Too many young people from First Nations communities are facing arrest and adverse interactions with police from a very young age. To help reverse this trend and in recognition of the powerful submissions from law reform bodies and medical experts the committee has recommended that the age of criminal responsibility be lifted from 10 to 14 years.

“Lifting the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years not only recognises the best evidence on cognitive development, it will bring Australia into the international mainstream where 14 years is the well-established minimum age for criminal responsibility.

“One important reform was to raise the threshold for prosecution for offensive language that will prevent First Nations people being dragged before the courts for what is known as the “trifecta” of offensive language, assault police and resist arrest.

“These are 39 crucial recommendations from increased drug courts, to changes to the Bail Act and great support throughout the coronial process and each recommendation is designed to make a material change to the lives of First Nations people.

“From today Parliaments around the country are on notice that they must treat First Nations deaths in custody as a genuine crisis and not just hand down recommendations but implement reforms, save lives and respect First Nations people’s demands for justice, truth and treaty” Mr Shoebridge said.

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