Family of Aboriginal teenager who died in custody say lawyers not allowed to dial in to inquest

Mr Yeeda’s family’s legal team unable to attend in person due to hard border

The family of an Aboriginal teenager who died in custody say they feel the inquest was hampered after some of their lawyers were prevented from dialling in to the coroner’s court of Western Australia.

Mr Yeeda, 19, died at Derby regional hospital on 3 May 2018 after suffering a heart attack in West Kimberley regional prison. He had been diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease as a child and was overdue for heart valve replacement surgery.

The inquest into his death was held in Perth this week. But the solicitors Mr Yeeda’s family had been dealing with, from the Sydney-based National Justice Project, were unable to attend in person due to the hard border with New South Wales and were told they could not appear via video link.

The family was represented in the courtroom by a South Australian barrister, Anthony Crocker, but their instructing solicitors were not able to listen in.

“We have been with these lawyers for over three years, from within a week of losing [Mr Yeeda],” Daniel Taylor, the partner of Mr Yeeda’s mother, Marlene Carlton, told Guardian Australia. “We thought they were going to be with us, and then we had a video link with them on Monday and found out that the coroner was not providing them with a video link.

“They have been with us from the start and were excluded from the most important part.”

The office of the coroner’s court said they received a request for the lawyers to appear via video link late on Friday, with the inquest scheduled to begin on Tuesday.

“Given the lateness of the request, the court made attempts and considered facilitating the request,” a spokesperson said in response to questions from Guardian Australia on Wednesday. “The presiding coroner had already granted leave for a barrister to appear in person at the inquest hearing on behalf of the family, who are also present in court.

“Had the barrister been unable to attend court in person, the presiding coroner would have allowed the barrister to appear via a link to the court. The lawyers interstate who made the request to remotely hear the proceedings are not making appearances before the court.”

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Guardian Australia understands the court was concerned with keeping the video link free for witnesses. The lawyers were able to listen in to part of the hearing on Thursday via phone.

Taylor said he felt the inquest was hampered by the solicitors not being able to attend.

“They should be able to hear what’s going on so they can pass things up to the barrister, to tell them what to say and what not to say.”

The National Justice Project is also representing the family of the Noongar and Yamatji woman Cherdeena Wynne, who died in Perth in 2019.

That inquest is scheduled to begin on 13 September. Guardian Australia understands the lawyers requested an adjournment to be able to appear in person. But it was denied on the grounds that the barrister representing the family, who again has come from SA, will be able to appear in person and the instructing solicitors can appear via video link.

The coroner’s court said it was able to facilitate counsel, witnesses and family members to appear “via technological means” and the decision to allow that would be made on a case-by-case basis. It said it “has in place its own procedures to ensure all interested parties in the coronial system, including family members of persons who have died in custody, receive procedural fairness.”

A spokesperson from the WA Department of Justice said the state government had “invested significantly in specialist technology solutions” to support remote court appearances.

“There are in excess of 180 videoconference-enabled facilities in courts and tribunals around the state which have the ability to connect with four locations and 50 external parties simultaneously where the virtual meeting room facility is utilised,” they said.

“WA courts and tribunals have not fallen behind other jurisdictions and have the capability to link to intrastate, interstate and international parties to proceedings.”


Calla Wahlquist

The GuardianTramp

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