West Australian Government applauded for Bill to cancel warrants for unpaid fines 

June 18, 2020

Human rights lawyers have welcomed the passage of a West Australian bill to end the controversial imprisonment of residents with unpaid fines. In 2014, when Yamatji woman, Ms Dhu, died in custody while serving a sentence for defaulting on her fines, this archaic practice was cast into the national spotlight. The change is long overdue in WA, which is the last remaining state to lock up fine defaulters at a cost of nearly $3 million dollars annually. 

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) President Kerry Weste said, “ALHR welcomes these long-awaited reforms as an important step in ensuring WA complies with  international human rights law obligations and implements a long outstanding recommendation from the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. These reforms will save lives.”

“After the coronial inquiry into Ms Dhu’s shocking death, ALHR supported Coroner Ros Fogliani’s recommendations including that the West Australian Government prioritise reforms to end the practice of “imprisoning people for unpaid fines.”

“This is part of a larger national issue. It has been 28 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended governments consider introducing an ongoing amnesty on the execution of outstanding warrants for unpaid fines. Since then 434 First Nations individuals have died in custody. In 38% of these cases medical care that was required at some point was not given and in 41% of cases agencies such as police watch-houses, prisons and hospitals failed to follow all of their own procedures. Indigenous women are still less likely to receive all appropriate medical care prior to their death and authorities are less likely to have followed all of their own procedures where an Indigenous woman died in custody.”

“We must ensure that our justice system protects First Nations people from death and harm while in custody.”

“ALHR also takes this opportunity to congratulate Sisters Inside for continuously campaigning on this issue since 2014, during which time it has paid off hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for women and secured their release from prison,” said Ms Weste.

“ALHR calls on the Federal Government and all states and territories to take urgent actions to reduce the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison, and deaths in custody, including by implementing all recommendations in the 1991 Royal Commission report.” 

Contact: Matt Mitchell, ALHR media manager 0431 980 365.