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Reducing deaths in custody in Western Australia by improving police investigations and the coronial system

Nicholls, Liam (2013) Reducing deaths in custody in Western Australia by improving police investigations and the coronial system. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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Deaths in custody often attract considerable public interest. While the State’s duties in relation to deaths in custody are clear, the key obstacles faced in trying to prevent these deaths relate to the nature of Western Australia’s police investigation model and the coronial system. Despite the number of deaths in custody remaining relatively stable in recent years, there is a lot more that can be done to prevent deaths occurring.

The initial police investigation into any death in custody must be independent, efficient and effective. This allows the police to obtain evidence relating to the death and provide it to the coroner, and if an offence has been committed, to the prosecutor. The Western Australian model of police investigation is not optimal because it relies on police to investigate all deaths in custody, even when the deceased was in police custody or died as a result of police operations. This poses a conflict of interest and must be addressed.

The coroner has the unique ability to make recommendations to prevent deaths occurring. There are a number of issues associated with Western Australia’s coronial system which mean that the coroner’s ability to prevent deaths in custody is not being fulfilled. These issues include that there is no system in place to monitor whether coronial recommendations are implemented, and that the coroner relies on the initial police investigation, which is conducted using a flawed model.

This paper will discuss several systemic issues associated with police investigations and the coronial system. These issues seriously inhibit the potential to prevent deaths in custody because systemic and non-systemic issues are potentially not being identified or addressed. To resolve these issues, the Western Australian police investigation model and coronial system must be reformed.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Law
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Finlay, Lorraine
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