The head of Western Australia’s Aboriginal Legal Service has welcomed new laws aimed at overhauling the state’s much-criticised unpaid fines regime.
Under the new legislation, which passed the state’s upper house on Tuesday, fine defaulters will no longer be immediately taken into custody and warrants for imprisonment will only be able to be issued by a magistrate under strict circumstances.
The changes were sparked by the case of 22 -year old Yamatji woman Ms Dhu, who died in custody in 2014 after being locked up for $3622 in unpaid fines.
A coronial inquest into Ms Dhu’s death found she had been subjected to “unprofessional and inhumane treatment”.
The changes come almost 30 years after the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Among the 330 recommendations it delivered, the commission called for governments to “consider introducing an ongoing amnesty on the execution of long outstanding warrants of commitment for unpaid fines.”
WA Aboriginal Legal Service CEO Dennis Eggington says the practice has had a devastating impact on the state’s Aboriginal people.
Mr Eggington said that financially, jailing people over unpaid fines had never made sense.
“The State imprisons a person at an average daily cost of $770, yet a day in prison for fine enforcement would only wipe out $250,” he said.
“I am sure that many people will be breathing a huge sigh of relief given that all existing warrants of commitment for unpaid fines will be cancelled and those in WA’s prison for unpaid fines will be released.”