Warning: This story contains the name and images of a deceased Indigenous person.
It was one of the nation’s most horrifying death in custody cases, a young woman imprisoned for unpaid fines dying after enduring inhumane treatment at the hands of police who didn’t believe her repeated cries for help.
Coroner Ros Fogliani concluded in 2016 that Ms Dhu’s final hours were marred by unprofessional treatment, with officers convinced she was feigning illness and possibly suffering drug withdrawals. Her family’s lawyer said she was only arrested after calling police for help as a victim of crime.
While there are almost a dozen plaintiffs listed on the statement of claim, led by Ms Dhu’s family, Levitt warned the claim could affect several thousand people.
The WA Law Society documented the law’s discriminatory and disproportionate effect and the national Law Council calling for its abolition before it was eventually repealed.
Despite Indigenous people making up just 3.3 per cent of the population, Levitt said they were grossly overrepresented among those jailed for unpaid fines.
It made a $1.1 million ex gratia payment to the family of Ms Dhu back in 2017, but did so in a way that did not prevent the family from seeking further damages.
The doctor who treated Ms Dhu was also slapped with a $30,000 fine after being found guilty of professional misconduct.
The parties are expected to front court in Perth in September.
*Ms Dhu’s first name has not been used for cultural reasons.