The New South Wales Aboriginal Legal Services has stated that Government funding has not been renewed for the 24-hour legal advice and RU OK phone line which has prevented Aboriginal deaths in police cell custody since it began in NSW and ACT.
In operation since 2000, the Custody Notification Service was a response to a recommendation from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody whereby Police must notify the Aboriginal Legal Service every time they detain or arrest an Aboriginal person in order for that person to receive early legal advice and a welfare check.
Kane Ellis, Acting CEO of Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT says he’s disappointed the CNS is being overlooked by government again despite the success of the program.
“Two years ago we won two years worth of grant funding for the CNS from the Australian government,” said Mr Ellis.
“Now we’re back at the beginning, again having to ask government to provide funds to a Service that has not failed.”
“Our funding application to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy funding pool was rejected, and our repeated attempts to gain further grant funding have been ignored.”
“The cost to run the CNS is nearly the same as holding two juveniles in detention for one year, yet the CNS assists over 15,000 Aboriginal people each year with early legal advice and an RU OK welfare check.”
“The government is achieving huge savings by having this Service. Court, bail and diversion costs are down while the cost of assisting a vulnerable person in custody with health and welfare assistance is simply immeasurable.”
“The Custody Notification Service is more than just a phone line, it’s a lifeline.”
“Every time our lawyers speak to an Aboriginal person being detained they check upon the welfare of the person by asking RU OK? Often people aren’t OK. Threats of self-harm or suicide are common. Our lawyers are skilled at hearing ideation or real threats of self-harm or suicide. The lawyer notifies the police and the vulnerable person in custody is made safe.”
“We regularly assist Aboriginal people access essential medication or medical attention they were otherwise not receiving.”
Legislated under NSW law, the CNS receives over 300 calls per week at a per unit cost of $32 per call with ALS lawyers working 24/7 to provide the service, without attracting penalty rates.
“No other service provider could run this essential phone line as cheaply and effectively as we do,” said Mr Ellis.
“It gives vulnerable Aboriginal men, women and children access to an experienced lawyer for timely legal advice which is crucial given the already shamefully high rates of Aboriginal over-representation in the criminal justice system.”
“Without the Custody Notification Service, more Aboriginal people will go to gaol.”
Funding for the CNS ceases on 30 June 2015. The phone line costs $526,000 per annum to support six lawyers working around the clock and one administration officer.
The CNS has been funded by the Australian government since 2007 through one-off grants, and separate from our core funding stream.
The ALS is urgently calling on the Australian government to fund this essential Service.
The ALS petition to Government to #savetheCNS currently has over 34,000 signatures.
– Declaration of impartiality conflict of interest – The Stringer has been lobbying the Federal Government and the Western Australian Government for the roll-out of the CNS in WA and nationally.