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Australia Family of Indigenous man who died in custody fronts NSW inquiry into coroner's court process

09:41  26 october  2020
09:41  26 october  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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The coroner ' s court needs an Aboriginal commissioner to sit alongside the coroner , as well as more Indigenous liaison The family of David Dungay Jr also appeared before the inquiry on Monday, after becoming figureheads for the fight to change the record on deaths in custody in recent months.

Jonathon' s case made it to the New South Wales Coroners Court last year. This month, handing down her findings, Deputy Coroner Harriet Magistrate Grahame began her findings by focusing on Aboriginal deaths in custody , and said the over-representation of Indigenous people in prisons was

a group of people posing for the camera: The family of David Dungay Jr appeared before the inquiry today. (Supplied: Michelle Haywood ) © Provided by ABC NEWS The family of David Dungay Jr appeared before the inquiry today. (Supplied: Michelle Haywood )

Some of the country's top Indigenous lawyers are calling for major reforms to state coronial investigation processes to help grieving families who are "losing faith" in the system.

Lawyers, advocates and Aboriginal families delivered evidence in the first day of public hearings at a New South Wales parliamentary inquiry into Indigenous deaths in custody.

"It is very difficult for family of the deceased in an Aboriginal community to have faith in an investigation of a death in custody," said Tony McAvoy, on behalf of the NSW Bar Association.

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"Families are put in a position where the decisions that are made are not as transparent as they should be and faith in the system is at a fairly low level," he said.

The coroner's court needs an Aboriginal commissioner to sit alongside the coroner, as well as more Indigenous liaison officers and greater resourcing, he told the inquiry.

"The coroner should be resourced to do its job, that would mean resourcing the coroner's court, with the investigative powers, so that they can investigate independently [of police and corrective services]," Mr McAvoy said.

Mr McAvoy was Australia's first Indigenous SC, and used his opening remarks to encourage the inquiry to break a "culture of reporting and inaction" on these issues.

He drew attention to the fact that dozens of reports and inquiries, including the 1991 royal commission, had provided a roadmap to change, but that Indigenous imprisonment rates were instead higher than ever.

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Earlier, New South Wales Corrections apologised to the family of David Dungay, admitting Kendall Bailey, the forensic pathologist who conducted the post-mortem, agreed that Dungay died from Earlier in the week, the court heard that Dungay did not need to be moved to another cell because Dr Trevor Ma, who was the psychiatric registrar on duty at the time of Dungay’ s death in custody

This inquiry is one of the first major examinations of the country's disproportionate rates of Indigenous imprisonment following Black Lives Matter rallies earlier this year.

Victim's family fronts inquiry

The family of David Dungay Jr also appeared before the inquiry today, after becoming figureheads for the fight to change the record on deaths in custody in recent months.

David Dungay Jr died at Long Bay prison hospital in December 2015 after being restrained by several staff, the recent coronial inquest did not recommend any charges against officers.

"No mother should ever to have see the video of how her son died, begging to breathe," said his mother, Leetona Dungay, when recalling her son's own coronial inquest for the inquiry

"We know some changes have been made [following the coronial inquest,] but they are not enough and they are not systematic."

Ms Dungay delivered an emotional speech to the inquiry, telling the committee she felt no one "showed her son compassion" or "a bit of respect".

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"My family was extremely sad that just days after he [my son] died the Corrections Commissioner told the media there were no suspicious circumstances."

Other legal organisations said there was a desperate need for more transparency and independence in initial investigations to deaths in both police and prison custody.

"The community should be confident that the findings of the coroner are accurate and that they are independent," Sarah Crellin, principal solicitor for the criminal practice at the Aboriginal Legal Service, said.

"The Aboriginal community has been crying out for this for some time, there is a distrust of authorities, and in my experience families grow increasingly suspicious of the process of police investigating police or corrective officers," she said.

Another witness said in cases where the cause of death was clear, families were suspicious because of the behaviour of investigating officers.

In submissions to the inquiry, there were calls to establish an entirely new First Nations investigation body.

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This is interesting!