THE alleged wrongful overnight detention and strip-searching of a 13-year-old Aboriginal girl in Hobart reveals issues with Tasmania Police’s treatment of Aboriginal people, legal and advocacy groups believe.
The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre also claims Tasmanian Aboriginal people do not have access to 24-hour legal advice when detained, despite the measure being recommended by the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody.
The TAC provided an after-hours legal service for 42 years until it lost its contract in 2015, which the Attorney-General awarded to the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service following concerns at accessibility to the TAC service.
VALS established the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community Legal Service, but after-hours calls are directed to Victoria where legal advice cannot be provided.
TAC chief operations officer Raylene Foster said this gap in legal representation had resulted in more instances of Aboriginal people being wrongfully detained in Tasmania without immediate access to their rights.
“These issues are occurring constantly,” she said.
“The TAC would always have someone on call, but that’s not happening anymore.
“If a 13-year-old girl was taken into the lock-up, it's hard to see how all of the correct steps were followed.
“This goes to show that the system is not working.”
Tasmania Police picked up the girl from her cousin’s house about 7pm on Wednesday under the wrongful belief she had breached bail curfew conditions. She was strip-searched including her underwear – actions Tasmania Police said were standard “legislative and procedural protocols” .
Her aunt said the girl was intimidated and “wasn’t treated appropriately”.
In a statement, TACLS itself was critical of the actions of Tasmania Police in relation to the girl and another incident last week when two Aboriginal youths were detained for two days without access to the courts.
TACLS said it demonstrated “the need for improved treatment of Aboriginal people by Tasmania Police”, and defended the legal support it can provide.
“All custody notifications are forwarded to the to TACLS who are best placed to assess client need and ensure they have appropriate legal representation,” the statement reads.
TACLS gave legal advice to one of the detained youths a day before fronting court and contacted Legal Aid for the other. The 13-year-old girl later received advice from private counsel.
According to the latest data from 2016, Aboriginal youths were more than twice as likely to be in police detention than non-Aboriginal youths and three-times more likely to be on community-based supervision orders.
Attorney-General Christian Porter said he had no issues with the delivery of legal services by TACLS.
“It is a fully locally staffed service and is delivering positive justice outcomes for its clients,” he said.