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Deaths in custody

If you have lost a loved one in custody or a police operation, the ALS may be able to represent you in a coronial inquest.

Please call us on 1800 765 767 (free call) and ask to speak with our Coronial Unit.

We help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in NSW and the ACT.


What is a coronial inquest?

A coronial inquest is a formal investigation into the circumstances surrounding a person’s death. It is conducted by a coroner (a type of magistrate who specialises in these matters) and takes place in the Coroner’s Court.

In Australia, all deaths in custody and police operations must be investigated by a coroner.

If you have lost a close family member in a death in custody or a police operation, you may be entitled to take part in the inquest and share your point of view. The ALS may be able to provide information and support, and this may include providing a lawyer to represent you in the inquest. 

Please call us on 1800 765 767 for a confidential yarn about how we can help.


What the Coroner does

In a coronial inquest, the Coroner will attempt to answer questions including:

  • Who died?
  • When and where did the person die?
  • How did the person die?
  • What happened and why?
  • Is there anything we can do to prevent similar deaths in the future?

They will hear evidence from witnesses who may be able to give information about:

  • The person who died;
  • What happened; and
  • Any policies, rules and institutional attitudes that may have played a role in the tragedy.


What the Coroner doesn’t do

The Coroner’s role is to find out what happened, not to point the finger or lay blame. 

However, if the Coroner believes that an offence has been committed, they can suspend the inquest and refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This may or may not lead to criminal charges being laid.


Coronial recommendations

The Coroner has the power to make recommendations to governments and other agencies such as prisons, police and Justice Health. 

These recommendations are aimed at improving public health and safety. Where the Coroner finds that a person’s death was preventable, they might make recommendations to try to stop the same thing from happening again.

Unfortunately, the Coroner does not have the power to follow up on these recommendations or make sure they are implemented. The ALS is advocating to change this, because we believe police and prisons must be accountable to Aboriginal people and families.


Help is available

If you have experienced the death in custody of a close family member, you should be directly contacted by police or corrective services. They should inform you what has happened and link you up with support services.

They are also required to notify the ALS if the death has occurred in NSW or the ACT. We will try to contact you to offer our support.

Help is available with counselling, financial support, and organising for your loved one to be laid to rest. Information is available on the Coroner’s Court NSW website and our team can also connect you with support options.


More information

Visit the Coroner’s Court NSW website for more information on how the coronial process works.

For information, advice and support, please call the ALS Coronial Unit on 1800 765 767 (free call).

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