Premier Andrews must act ahead of hearing into Tanya Day’s death in police custody

Premier Andrews must act ahead of hearing into Tanya Day’s death in police custody

The second directions hearing in the coronial inquest into Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day’s death in police custody will commence today.

On 5 December 2017, Tanya Day boarded a train from Echuca to Melbourne. She never made it.

Tanya was taken off the train in Castlemaine and arrested by police and locked up for being drunk in a public place. In custody, she fell and hit her head on a number of occasions. Tanya lay on the floor of the police cell as her brain haemorrhaged. Tanya Day later died in hospital on 22 December 2017.

Tanya’s daughter, Belinda Stevens, said that her family are calling on the Victorian Government to abolish the offence of public drunkenness.  

“Our mum should have never been arrested and she should have never been locked up. She should be with us today. The Victorian Government must get rid of dangerous and unfair laws like public drunkenness so that no other family has to live with this grief,” said Stevens.

Over the past three decades, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and numerous expert reports, including the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991, have recommended that the offence of public drunkenness be abolished and replaced with a health based response.

Ruth Barson, a Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre, who is representing the family, said that the Victorian Government cannot ignore these recommendations any longer.

“To stop people dying in custody, we need to change the law. Premier Andrews can do this today. He can act with care and common sense and get rid of the offence of public drunkenness. If somebody is too drunk, they need help to get home or for an ambulance to be called – they should not be behind bars,” said Barson.

In December 2018 at the first directions hearing in the inquest into Tanya Day’s death, the Coroner said that she will recommend the offence of public drunkenness be abolished. Despite this, the Andrews Government has not committed to getting rid of the law.

“People don’t die in custody coming home drunk from the Melbourne Cup or the Grand Final. Our laws currently criminalise behaviour for some people that is completely overlooked for others. If Premier Andrews does not get rid of the offence of public drunkenness and confront the racism that leads to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being targeted and locked up – then deaths in custody will continue,” said Barson.

A petition, set up by the Day family, calling on the Victorian Government to abolish the offence of public drunkenness, has already been signed by thousands of people.

READ: An overview of the coronial inquest into the death in custody of Tanya Day.

Media Alert: Smoking Ceremony and Press Conference
Who: The Family of Tanya Day and their lawyers from the Human Rights Law Centre
When: 9.15am, Tuesday 19 March, 2019
Where: Victorian Coroner's Court forecourt, 65 Kavanagh St, Southbank

Media contact:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519