Today the Coroner postponed the date of the Inquest into the death of Veronica Marie Nelson. The Inquest will now commence on 26 April 2022. The Coroner also provided the parties a further opportunity to make submissions regarding expert evidence and outstanding requests for evidence.

Veronica Marie Nelson was a strong Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman. She was connected to her culture and close to her family and community. She was 37 years old when she died at Dame Phillis Frost Centre in Victoria, only 3 days after being arrested and refused bail for shoplifting-related offences. During her final night in prison, she was distressed and cried out for medical assistance a number of times. She died alone in her prison cell.

The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service’s Wirraway team is representing Percy Lovett, Veronica Nelson’s partner of 22 years, in the Coronial Inquest into her death.

VALS believes that the Inquest will shine a light on serious deficiencies in the quality of care in Victorian prisons and the human cost of the current bail laws, which have disproportionately impacted on Aboriginal people, jeopardising their health, wellbeing and safety.

These laws, and the ‘exceptional circumstances’ test, have had a disproportionate impact on Aboriginal women and have seen more and more Aboriginal women like Veronica remanded to jail for minor offences.

In Victoria, Aboriginal women make up 13% of the prison population, but only account for 1% of the general population.

Quotes Attributable to James Percy Lovett, partner of Veronica Nelson

“Veronica was a strong woman – stronger than me. She’d always help someone on the street. She taught me everything about our ways. It’s got me beat how she knew what she knew. She knew everything.”

“I don’t want it to happen again. I want to make it easier for the next women who get locked up. I want them to be looked after more. I want them to get more support and treatment in the community.”

“I want everyone to know why and how they went wrong and didn’t do the job they were supposed to do. I want people to know, because she was a strong woman.”

“I want accountability.”

“I want Veronica to be heard.”

Quotes Attributable to Moricia Vrymoet, Director of Legal Services at Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

“Veronica Nelson should be alive today, living with her community and sharing culture.”

“It gives us some hope that the Inquest will examine the systemic issues surrounding bail laws and healthcare in Victorian prisons. We need the Victorian Government to pay attention and learn from their mistakes.”

“The bail laws introduced by Daniel Andrews and the Victorian Government have become a lethal weapon of the State and are being used against Aboriginal people.”

Media inquiries:   Patrick Cook, Senior Communications and Media Officer, 0417 003 910, pcook@vals.org.au

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.