The Australian Human Rights Commission this week called for an urgent audit of justice services to people with disability, as Rosie Anne Fulton, a woman detained in WA because she her disability meant she was deemed unfit to plead, became the latest person to highlight this type of human rights breach. The Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes and Mick Gooda, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner shared their views with the commission and advised that the issues raised cannot be ignored and it is a grave mark on Australia’s already shaky reputation in Human Rights.
Rosie Anne has been in Kalgoorlie prison for the last eighteen months. She was charged with crimes related to a motor vehicle, but – due to her intellectual disability – the court found her unfit to plead. She was then sent to Kalgoorlie prison because no other suitable accommodation was available for her. The NT now has such a facility but they have been reluctant to take Rosie Anne out of WA and bring her to where she was born in Alice Springs. All she wants is to go home. But the WA and NT governments don’t seem able to find a way to achieve this. A previous post contained a petition and I would like to say a very big thank you for those who signed as it met the number criteria to force a hearing by the Australian Human Rights commission. So – THANK YOU!!
There is one who knows with great detail and clarity what Rosie is going through at this time. Marlon Noble was born in Carnarvon from the north of Western Australia. He was charged with offences that were never proven. In fact, a decade after the charges, they were clearly shown to have no substance. But Marlon spent most of that decade in prison, because he too was found unfit to plead.
It is understand that there are around thirty other Australians – mainly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians – in the same position as Rosie Anne and Marlon. They are largely, but not exclusively, in WA and the NT.
In the wake of these reports and the push for a hearing a number of defense lawyers have spoken up about the dilemma that they face if they have a client who they know is unfit to plead. Do they tell the court, in which case they could be locked up like Rosie Anne and Marlon, or do they advise their client to plead guilty because at least they know that the sentence will be shorter. These are not real options and it is terrible for all parties involved that such were necessary considerations and unless things change will continue to be.
You can judge a society by how they treat their weakest members.
If Australia was judged in this way on this issue we would be found sadly wanting and deservedly so.