Premier doesn't want detention for unpaid fines

Updated December 18, 2016 16:33:25

Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett says he does not want people imprisoned for unpaid fines, but has stopped short of committing to the state coroner's recommendation for legislative change to rule out detention for fine defaulters.

Mr Barnett today described as "confronting" CCTV footage released by coroner Ros Fogliani of the Aboriginal woman Ms Dhu before she died, after being locked up for 48 hours in the South Hedland police station in 2014 for not paying fines.

In her findings in the Ms Dhu case delivered on Friday, Ms Fogliani recommended the law be amended so warrants could no longer be issued for the arrest of fines defaulters, who are then jailed in lieu of payment.

Mr Barnett said his Attorney-General Michael Mischin would look at all the recommendations and advise him.

"We don't want to see fine defaulters in our jail system. We'll deal with them in other ways," he said.

After the findings were handed down, Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said officers would no longer hold people who failed to pay fines in lockups for more than eight hours.

The Premier noted the Government had already introduced measures to reduce the imprisonment rate of fine defaulters, such as community service orders or paying the penalties over time.

He said the number of jailed for fine defaults had more than halved since 2010.

The coroner criticised the treatment of Ms Dhu by police in South Hedland as "inhumane and unprofessional".

She had a pre-existing infection and her health deteriorated dramatically while in the lockup.

The coroner found that although Ms Dhu told police she was in excruciating pain, they thought she was feigning illness, a view echoed by medical staff at the Hedland Health Campus, where she was taken twice before her death.

Mr Barnett said Mr O'Callaghan's role as the WA's top police officer was not to hold people in custody.

"I don't think people should be spending extended time in lockups," he said.

The CCTV footage shows Ms Dhu limp and unresponsive on her cell bed, and slipping back and hitting her head on the concrete as an officer tries to lift her.

Officers then dragged her down the hallway and put her in the back of a police car to take her to the hospital, where she died on arrival.

Mr Barnett said he had seen some of the footage.

"It was very confronting to most people," he said.

"Can I also say while that should never have happened and I don't excuse it, there was difficult situations the police were facing then. A lot of aggression and the like."

The Premier would not say which instances of aggression he was referring to.

Topics:black-deaths-in-custody, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, government-and-politics, wa, perth-6000

First posted December 18, 2016 15:43:45

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