Australian Aboriginal family sets custody precedent

A KYOGLE mother and son have won a protracted challenge to what the NSW Supreme Court now deems an unlawful arrest, setting a statewide precedent expected to bring a change in police policy. Gloria May Williams and her son, Robert Lee Anthony Williams, were found guilty in the Kyogle Local Court last year of hindering police when officers arrived at an indigenous dance ceremony to arrest Robert's younger brother, Joel Nathan Williams, on a 2009 shoplifting charge. Comment by Ray Jackson, president, indigenous social justice association:

at last, a real good news story.

a story that finally puts the meat on the bones of royal commission recommendation 87a that states: all police services should adopt and apply the principle of arrest being the sanction of last resort in dealing with offenders. this recommendation, the nsw government informed us in 1992, was supported and the following comments made: a) this is the case in nsw. b) police training includes substantial components to alternatives to arrest. c) (police commissioner) policies and instructions are under review. d) this matter will be considered in (the) course of the review of the policies and instructions.

it may have been allegedly accepted and implemented by the nsw government but it was never ever accepted or implemented by the nsw police. one deputy commissioner sneered at me, at that time, that the recommendations were for the politicians and were not meant for the police.

anyway, the recommendation is quite plain in its meaning and in its required outcome. less arrests leading to less gaol time and less deaths in custody in both police and prison cells. that the recommendation has been totally and arrogantly ignored by the police nationally since 1991, some 20 years, only highlights the possibility/probability that our gaol numbers, both for our men and women, would be less and our death in custody figures would also have been less. it would most certainly have led to a reduction of the 50%+ of our youth currently locked up in the juvenile justice centres.

the police have much to answer for and to accept responsibility for also.

i congratulate the als solicitor, jeremy styles, and the bravery of the williams family of kyogle for standing up to the racist justice system and obtaining a victory in the court that will have positive ramifications, certainly within the nsw jurisdiction, but also hopefully australia-wide.

i urge activists in the other states and territories to question the arrest powers of their police.

kyogle is not the worst of the racist towns in nsw or australia but i would say it is up there with the worst. i fully believe that the williams family will need to tread carefully as, i believe, the kyogle cops are not going to accept this blatant questioning of their power without some counter-action.

there are of course many recommendations handed down by the commissioners that would also lessen the dismal statistics for aboriginal and torres strait islanders caught up in the custodial systems and i get angry, as i know others do, when governments around the country continue to introduce one failed 'answer' after another whilst wasting tens of millions of tax-payers dollars in doing so.

as i continue to maintain, if we want lower gaol numbers, for all inmates, then we must continue to educate the court systems, including juveniles, of recommendation 92 that states: that governments that have not already done so should legislate to enforce the principle that imprisonment should be utilised only as a sanction of last resort.

this recommendation was supported by the nsw government and stated to be implemented in 1992. their comment at that time was as follows:

section 80ab of the justices act and section 33(2) of the children (criminal proceedings) act 1987 currently provides for the principle of imprisonment as a sanction of last resort. it may also be appropriate for such a provision to be included in the crimes act 1900, and this possibility is to be examined in the course of the present review of the provision of the act. i don't know if it was incorporated into the crimes act or not but it no longer seems to be enacted in any jurisdiction.

again a quite clear recommendation that means exactly what it says. the courts have other alternatives such as bail, community service orders, periodic detention, home detention, among others. the legal arm of the police, and no one can convince me otherwise, the dpp argues more than not for the offender to be gaoled. hence the high numbers.

but as we are aware neither the courts nor the gaols create the numbers. the numbers are created by the police who continue to ignore r87a and thus fill up the courts and the gaols beyond capacity. put simply, they are the problem. they also have tools that can be used to lessen the numbers being force-fed into the custodial systems. they can issue a caution, a court attendance notices, after arrest they can grant bail, they probably can do other things. but they don't, especially for our mobs. too many reports have been produced, each showing the blatant racism involved from the police to their aboriginal detainees.

until the police forces of australia are forced to accept the recommendations appertaining to their custodial area there will be no real change.

it seems that we must now push them through the court system to make them valid and legal.

one recommendation down, 337 to go. and yes i can count as the hawke government rejected that atsic become autonomous of the public service thus leaving 338.

come on all you legals, there is much work to be done and the ball is in your court.