26 September 2023

Coroner takes shot at State’s justice system

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Victoria’s justice system could face serious reformation after a report from the Coroners Court of Victoria found the death of a person in custody in 2020 was preventable.

Responding to the report Inquest into the passing of Veronica Nelson, Premier Daniel Andrews said the tragedy of Ms Veronica Nelson’s death would lead to reform across the State’s justice system.

“Her experience and the terrible way in which she was let down and failed will drive reform and change, be in no doubt about that,” Mr Andrews (pictured) said.

“We’ll have more to say about those reforms quite soon and they will involve not just bail, and a better recognition in our bail laws of the clear difference between violent offending and non-violent offending, but they will also involve other matters that go well beyond the law,” he said.

“They go to issues of prisoner welfare and making sure that vulnerable Victorians — whether that be because they are First Nations Victorians, or for many other reasons — are given the support and care that they are entitled to as a basic human right.”

Mr Andrews did not name a deadline for the reforms but said it was likely changes would take place within months.

Coroner Simon McGregor made 39 recommendations in his Report including amendments to Victoria Police policies and guidelines; a review of certain Corrections Victoria practices; and a redesign of two of the Department of Justice and Community Safety’s reviews.

Coroner McGregor also recommended an “urgent review” of the Bail Act 1977 and a revision of the State’s system for auditing and scrutiny of custodial health care services.

He described the 2018 tightening of bail laws as a “complete and unmitigated disaster”.

“The 2018 changes to the Bail Act is most obviously inflicted on the accused who are incarcerated, often for short periods and for unproven offending of a type that often ought not result in imprisonment if proven,” Coroner McGregor said.

He said the changes also had a discriminatory impact on First Nations people, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

Coroner McGregor has referred prison healthcare contractor, Correct Care Australasia, to prosecutors after finding it may have breached Victoria’s Health and Safety Act in relation to Ms Nelson’s care.

Commissioner of Corrections Victoria (CV), Larissa Strong said CV took the care and wellbeing of all those in custody extremely seriously, “however it is clear that we must do better”.

“We will carefully consider all recommendations directed at the Department of Justice and Community Safety and Corrections Victoria,” Commissioner Strong said.

The Coroner’s 366-page Report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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