By Jeremy Styles - ALS Managing Advocate, 10th February 2020
Last year the ALS secured the release of a 57-year-old Aboriginal Woman who had been locked up for Contempt of the Supreme Court, because she didn’t have someone to help her understand her rights.
Kerry had a heart condition and appeared from prison by audio visual link with heart monitor stickers visible on her chest. She was homeless and had been squatting in a dwelling scheduled for demolition.
The Supreme Court tried to force her to leave the building, but she didn’t have anywhere else to go. She refused to leave unless another home was found for her. Staying on the premises was a direct defiance of orders of the Supreme Court and Kerry was found in contempt, convicted and sentenced to 14 days in prison.
Kerry had originally appeared in the Supreme Court unrepresented.
The ALS connected with her at the Court cells in the country, advised her and took instructions.
The ALS then appeared for Kerry in the Supreme Court and argued there should be an urgent hearing and that she should be discharged from the penalty and immediately released. Kerry said "to my deepest feelings I am very, very sorry".
She explained what prison had been like for her, "I feel shame in here. I feel not like a woman in Country"
Kerry said she understood how serious the breach of a Court’s orders was. The Supreme Court accepted her apology and discharged her from punishment. The warrant was revoked. She had been locked up for 7 full days, simply for wanting somewhere to sleep at night.
The biggest lessons from this matter come from Kerry Moran herself, “I now understand that breaching a Court order will end up with jail. I am walking evidence of it.
To me going to jail was like being in a cave. Not a cage: because in a cage you can look out of the bars.
This case also demonstrates several things, including that:
Culturally safe legal representation can allow people to understand the legal system and express themselves and their truths;
Legal representation can make a difference in securing the release of Aboriginal people;
The Court has the power to enforce its orders through locking people up, and;
The Court can provide clemency and relief (it can discharge a person punished for contempt: see SCR 55.14).
Note: Kerry Moran wanted her to educate people about contempt, particularly the Aboriginal Community. She hopes that lawyers for Aboriginal people can be more easily accessed.