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The Culture Compass: Navigating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in Court

Law as stated: 14 July 2023 What is this? This episode was published and is accurate as at this date.
Join Queensland barristers Avelina Tarrago and Melia Benn as they dial into Curiosity to share their knowledge and expertise on the intersection of culture and coronial work.
Professional Skills Professional Skills
Substantive Law Substantive Law
Avelina Tarrago and Melia Benn
1 hour = 1 CPD point
How does it work?
What area(s) of law does this episode consider?The interaction of culture and the Coroner’s Court.
Why is this topic relevant?Where deaths in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are reportable and intersect with the jurisdiction of Coroners Act 2003 (Qld) (Act) – or any other State’s equivalent – it is important to recognise the culture and customs of the deceased and to incorporate and contextualise them under the processes set out under the Act.

That includes everything from mourning practices to recognising the deceased’s connection to Country. It is crucial for lawyers to be aware of culture and customs in practice.

What legislation is considered in this episode?Coroners Act 2003 (Qld) (Act)
What cases are considered in this episode?Wotton v Queensland (No 5) [2016] FCA 1457 (Jade link)

  • In November 2004 Mulrunji Doomadgee died in police custody. Mulrunji’s death triggered civil unrest and a response from the Queensland Police Service (QPS). Justice Mortimer found that QPS’ response to Mulrunji’s death contravened the Racial Discrimination Act.
What are the main points?
  • A reportable death under the Act is, for example, one that is considered unnatural, violent, or otherwise suspicious.
  • The Coroner’s Court investigates these deaths to determine the cause and make recommendations to prevent future occurrences.
  • Sorry Business: A guide to cultural competency and engagement was developed for the Coroner’s Court in Queensland to provide guidance to office staff and Coroners on how to address cultural practices and protocols related to death and dying within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
  • The guide covers topics such as referring to a person after their death, handling concerns about autopsies, and understanding mourning practices.
  • It aims to create a safer environment for community participation in the court process.
  • Ensuring a safe and supportive environment encourages witnesses to share their experiences. If the family feels respected and listened to, they will willingly participate and provide valuable evidence.
  • Sometimes it can be difficult having conversations with families about autopsies. The decision to have an autopsy depends on the family’s consent, but ultimately the Coroner can make the final call.
  • Repatriating a deceased person from another state can be challenging, as there are issues that fall outside the jurisdiction of the coroner.
What are the practical takeaways?
  • It is important to understand cultural protocols and practices when engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, particularly in relation to gender roles and mourning processes.
  • Legal practitioners should understand the importance of relationships within communities, and the difficulty in rebuilding relationships in case something happens.
  • Sensitivity is essential to avoid re-traumatising the family during the coronial process.
  • Practitioners should increase their cultural safety knowledge to be a part of the collaborative process and build good relationships.
  • Improving cultural competency and understanding involves reflecting on personal relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • It is important to acknowledge where you have a lack of exposure to these communities and seek academic guidance to navigate cultural protocols.
  • Accessing sources authored by indigenous individuals and engaging with community and elders is crucial.
  • Be interested but know your limitations when working in different communities.
  • Consult with justice groups to understand cultural obligations and tailor approaches accordingly.
  • Seeking knowledge, practicing it, and striving for improvement is essential for successful engagement with communities and clients.
Show notesQueensland Courts, Sorry Business: A guide to cultural competency and engagement between the Coroners Court of Queensland and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (2019)