NT admits paperless arrest laws misused in Aboriginal death in custody case

Northern Territory attorney general says 59-year-old Kwementyaye Langdon, who died in custody, should not have been arrested under the controversial law.

The attorney general of the Northern Territory, John Elferink, has conceded paperless arrest laws were misused when police detained 59-year-old Kwementyaye Langdon, who later died in custody.

But he remained steadfast in his defence of the controversial laws, claiming vindication after a high court challenge brought by justice agencies was dismissed on Wednesday.

Langdon, a senior Walpriri man, died in a Darwin watch house in May after he was arrested by police who saw him drinking from a plastic bottle in a public park. He was issued a $74 infringement notice and taken into custody under the paperless arrest laws. Langdon died about three hours later of a massive heart attack, and coroner Greg Cavanagh found that while the detention did not cause his death, Langdon was entitled to die as a free man, not alone in a cell.

In Wednesday’s decision the high court justices said the arrest power “was prescribed for the purpose of enabling police officers to decide how to deal with persons taken into custody.”

It followed then that Langdon should not have been detained after being issued with an infringement notice, the lawyers who brought the high court case said.

In an interview with Guardian Australia, Elferink conceded that under the law “once the infringement notice is issued to a person then they are on their way”.

“The process was always intended to be that the infringement notice was delivered at the end of the process and I’m sure that police will change that very minor detail appropriately,” Elferink said.

A majority of the high court dismissed arguments by the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (Naaja) and the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) that the laws, which allow police to detain a person for up to four hours – or longer if intoxicated – on suspicion of minor summary offences, were punitive and penal, and unconstitutional.

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Source: The Guardian Online