Last updated 3 November 2016 This chapter is currently under review.
When a person dies in the custody of corrective services, the general manager must notify the person nominated as the prisoner’s contact person (usually next of kin) as soon as practicable. If the person who died was an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander prisoner, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service in the area must be notified and, if practicable, an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander elder, respected person or healer who is relevant to the person who died (s 24 Corrective Services Act 2006 (Qld)).
There are two investigation processes, which take place following a death in custody:
- police service investigation conducted by police officers, who report to the coroner and, if relevant, the Director of Public Prosecution
- Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) investigation conducted by inspectors appointed by QCS, who report to QCS.
A coronial inquest will be based on the information gathered by these investigations.
The coroner’s inquest
A coroner’s inquest is a way for the deceased person’s family to find out precisely how the death occurred and to bring the circumstances surrounding a death in custody into the public arena. It is also an opportunity to make recommendations about how to prevent future similar deaths.
Under the Coroners Act 2003 (Qld), the coroner must investigate the cause and circumstances of any death in prison custody. The coroner has the power to make or arrange for any examination, inspection, report or test that the coroner considers necessary for the investigation.
Following that inquiry (based on a report of the police investigation and a post-mortem examination), the coroner must hold an inquest into the death unless someone has been charged with an offence in which the question of whether the accused caused the death is an issue.
An inquest is a public hearing held to establish:
- the fact that a person has died
- the identity of the deceased person
- when, where and how the death occurred.
The coroner has wide powers in conducting the inquest to require a person to produce documents, to inspect or keep documents for a reasonable period, to order a person to attend an inquest until excused, and to give evidence or produce something. The Coroners Court is not bound by the rules of evidence.
The coroner may comment on anything connected with the death that relates to public safety, the administration of justice or ways to prevent deaths from happening in similar circumstances in the future. The coroner must give a written copy of their comments to:
- a family member of the deceased person who has indicated that they will accept the document for the deceased’s family
- any person who, as person with a sufficient interest in the inquest, appeared at the inquest
- the State Coroner
- the Attorney-General, the minister and the chief executive of QCS.
Findings are also published on the Queensland Courts website. Any person who, in the opinion of the coroner, has a sufficient interest in the subject or result of the inquest (this will usually be next of kin) may attend the inquest, either in person or represented by a solicitor or barrister and may examine and cross-examine witnesses.