This is a guest post by Russell Goldflam, President of the Criminal Lawyers Association of the Northern Territory (CLANT). Ir was originally published in the Centralian Advocate in early September 2015.
One of the first laws passed by the fledgling Northern Territory Legislative Assembly following self-government in 1978 gave police a controversial new power: to lock intoxicated people up for a few hours even if they were not suspected of committing an offence. At the time these laws were criticised for unfairly targeting Aboriginal people, and for giving police too much power. Over time, this power of police to take people into “protective custody”, as it is often called, has been restricted a bit by amendment, but it still exists, and it is used every night to sweep the streets of Alice Springs.
Nearly 40 years on, debate still rages about whether our protective custody laws have actually done any good. The families of those people have died in protective custody – and there have been a few – would no doubt strongly argue that these laws have been harmful. Certainly, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody over 20 years ago came to the firm conclusion that we should decriminalise drunkenness, and cease the practice of locking up drunks.READ MORE