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WA reforms unpaid fine laws following ‘inhumane’ death in custody

Western Australia has passed a bill to end the controversial imprisonment of residents with unpaid fines after the inhumane death of a young Aboriginal woman in custody.

user iconNaomi Neilson 18 June 2020 Big Law
Western Australia
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Imprisonment will now be the last resort for fine defaulters in Western Australia, following major calls for law reform after the death of a young Aboriginal woman in custody. The Western Australia premier Mark McGowan said community service or garnishing wages would now come first. 

“The legislation is very clear, you still need to pay your fines,” Mr McGowan said. “It’s just that the methods of enforcement [have] changed.

 
 

“Locking people up at huge expense for not paying a fine is not the best way of dealing with it. There are other options, there’s various community services and the like that are better ways of dealing [with] it. [There are also] garnishing wages, and the like.” 

As it stands, if a person is unable or unwilling to pay their fines, a warrant of commitment will be issued for their arrest and they can be made to pay it off by serving some time in police or prison custody at a rate of $250 per day. 

The changes were sparked by the death of Yamatji woman Ms Dhu – whose name is not used for cultural reasons. She died in custody in August 2014, after she was locked up in South Hedland Police Station for $3,622 in unpaid fines. 

The coronial inquest found that the police behaviour towards Ms Dhu was “inhumane”. The inquest recommended the state’s unpaid fine laws be made a last resort. 

Some advocates said the change would reduce the over-representation of Indigenous people in custody. Mr McGowan said the reform would look at reducing this rate, while ensuring “people pay their fines and [reduce] pressure on the prison system”.