Raymond Noel Lindsay Thomas (referred to as “Raymond Noel” for cultural reasons) was a proud Gunnai, Gunditjmara and Wiradjuri man.

Raymond Noel died in a police pursuit on 25 June 2017. Raymond Noel’s family have waited a long time for a chance to learn the truth about the circumstances that led to his death, and to have their views on police practices and procedures heard in Court.

VALS is proud to support the Thomas family in their quest for justice. This inquest will take place four years after Raymond’s passing, and 30 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. It is unacceptable that Governments have failed to implement the recommendations and end preventable deaths in custody and in police presence.

Police pursuits, like all policing tactics, disproportionately affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This matter highlights the devastating impact that a police pursuit, initiated as a result of a relatively minor traffic matter, can have for an individual, his family and his community. VALS also notes that Victoria Police has been scrutinised and criticised for its approach to pursuits in previous coronial inquests and investigations.

VALS hopes that the inquest into Raymond Noel’s tragic death will provide a fresh opportunity to examine Victoria Police’s pursuit procedures to ensure that they provide clear guidance to officers and prioritise community safety over all other concerns.

VALS also hopes to scrutinise the post-incident investigation of the pursuit. VALS has long condemned the practice of having police officers conduct investigations into police conduct. Independent bodiesshould be tasked with investigations into police contact deaths to ensure community confidence.

Quotes Attributable to Aunty Debbie and Uncle Ray, Raymond Noel’s parents

“Raymond Noel was a gentle giant who loved his family.”

“Every day since Raymond Noel died has been very difficult for us. We have wanted our day in court for so long, but we know that it will be a painful time and we hope that we will finally get some answers.”

“As Aboriginal people, we live with the fear of how racism will affect us every day. Being harassed or mistreated by police is one of our greatest fears and our hearts are broken because that fear became reality for our son.”

“No matter what happens in court, we will hold on to all the wonderful memories we have of Raymond Noel. We will remember how much he cherished his niece, Leahtia. We will remember how close he was with his brothers and how they would wake up early in the morning and wake everyone up with their laughter. We will remember that he was a proud Aboriginal man.”

“We hope that the Coroner can recommend changes to Victoria Police and the Victorian Government that will ensure no one else has to experience the grief that our family is still processing.”

Quotes Attributable to George Selvanera, Acting CEO of VALS

“VALS requests that the media and public respect the Thomas family during this incredibly difficult period. In accordance with practice adopted by the Coroners Court in this inquest, we ask that you refer to Raymond Noel as “Raymond Noel” or use his full name, Raymond Noel Lindsay Thomas. To do otherwise would cause considerable distress to his family. We also ask that everyone be understanding that these are sensitive matters, and that it will be a difficult time for the Thomas family.”

To determine eligibility VALS will:

  • enquire as to the Aboriginality of the client;
  • enquire as to perceived or actual conflict of interest;
  • enquire as to compliance with the Means Test;
  • consider the merit of the client’s matter.

Aboriginality
The first time someone uses VALS they must provide proof of their Aboriginality using the Confirmation of Aboriginality Form. This form must be signed and sealed by the Officer Bearers of a recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation.

Conflict
VALS must not decline to provide assistance to an eligible person, group or body on the grounds that the other party to the matter is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. In circumstances where the relationship between the parties to a case would result in a conflict of interest, that conflict must be managed in accordance with the Victorian Legal Practice requirements and Policy Direction 9 – “Managing Conflicts of Interest” – of the Attorney-General’s Department Policy Directions for the Delivery of Legal Aid Services to Indigenous Australians (2008).

VALS will not act if a conflict of interest exists. A conflict of interest may be an ‘actual’ conflict of interest or a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest. A conflict of interest can involve:

  • Clients who have different interests, such as VALS may have advised or acted for person “A” (old client) who has an interest that conflicts with person “B” (intended new client).
  • Clients and VALS, such as a VALS staff member or Board Member has an interest that conflicts with an intended new client. Conflicts involving client-provider relationships are:
    •  An owner, director, manager, employee, contractor or agent of VALS and/or;
    • An employee of the Department; and/or
    • A close relative (spouse, de facto, parent, sibling or child) of any of the above.

VALS provides assistance on a first in best dressed basis (i.e. provide direct assistance to the party who approaches VALS first). VALS will refer the other party to another legal service provider or “brief out” the client to a private lawyer (subject to the client meeting the requirements for brief outs). Where appropriate, VALS may act for one client and provide assistance by brief out to the other.

Means Test
Where a person seeks casework assistance, VALS must ensure that applicants satisfy the Means Testing provisions of the Policy Directions.

VALS must ensure that all applicants for legal casework assistance satisfy one or more of the following requirements:

  • Under 18 years of age;
  • Main source of income comes from Community Development Employment Projects; (CDEP) participant wages or Centrelink (or equivalent) benefits; or
  • Gross household income is under $52,000 per annum.

Note: Household income includes the income of your partner, spouse, relative including an adult child who you live with.

The Means Test will be administered in two parts:

Part A: Requires the completion of a small number of questions relating to the applicant’s personal circumstances and income level.

Part B: Is required where applicants do not satisfy the criteria in Part A. It requires more detail about the applicant’s income, assets, employment status and number of dependents.

Merit Test
Discretion will be used to determine if a particular case has merit.