1 February 2023

The Victorian coroner has made damning findings of systemic racism throughout the Victorian criminal justice system, which caused the death of Victoria Nelson: “I find that the use of handcuffs by Victoria Police was unjustified and disproportionate in the circumstances. I find that the police [bail decision-maker] was empowered to grant Veronica bail and failed to give proper consideration to the discretion to do so and this infringed her Charter rights. By failing to give proper consideration to the discretion, I find that the police [bail decision-maker] failed to adequately consider Veronica’s vulnerability in custody as an Aboriginal woman. I find that the training provided by Victoria Police on these topics fails to equip its members with an adequate appreciation of the vulnerability of an Aboriginal person in custody. … I find that at the time of Veronica’s appearance at the [Melbourne Magistrates’ Court]…, culturally specific support for Aboriginal court users was under-resourced and designed to address the cultural needs of only some Aboriginal people – those attending Koori Court. The restrictions of the cultural support role as planned by the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, and the inadequate process for identifying people who might need it, failed to give proper consideration to Veronica’s rights to equality and culture and those of other Aboriginal court users. I find that the Bail Act has a discriminatory impact on First Nations people resulting in grossly disproportionate rates of remand in custody, the most egregious of which affect alleged offenders who are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women. I find that ss 4AA(2)(c), 4A, 4C and Clauses 1 and 30 of Schedule 2 of the Bail Act are incompatible with the [Victorian Human Rights] Charter.” It goes on, but the findings about the Bail Act, and the coroner’s detailed recommendations about how it should be reformed, have forced the government to promise change.

The finding about the Bail Act has captured media attention, but it is not a shocking revelation. Here is a report from 2019: “Human rights advocates say the state’s expanding prison system and legal changes that make it tougher to access bail and parole are ensnaring disadvantaged women responsible for relatively minor criminal offending linked to poverty and substance abuse. This increase is particularly stark for Aboriginal women, with a 240 per cent jump in the number of female Aboriginal prisoners in Victorian prisons over the past five years. There has been a 50 per cent increase in the total number of female prisoners in Victoria over the same period… About two-thirds of women whose period of remand had ended were released from prison without needing to serve any more time in jail.” We knew what was happening, but the Andrews Government (which loves to pat itself on the back as the most progressive government in the nation) didn’t want to upset the cops [$] by fixing it. It shouldn’t have taken the death by racism of another Aboriginal woman to shock Andrews into a response — and, frankly, I’ll believe it when I see it, because the death of Tanya Day prompted a similar promise to amend the criminal law in 2019, but it still hasn’t happened.