2 July 2021

Today, the last day of the two-week Coronial Inquest into the death of Raymond Noel, started with a smoking ceremony in the morning, before closing submissions. In the middle of the Coronial Inquest, last Friday, Raymond Noel’s family marked the four-year anniversary of his death. That is a long time to wait, to hear the evidence, to get some answers.

The evidence

At the Inquest, we heard that on the night of Raymond Noel’s death, he was driving an unregistered vehicle, but was otherwise a law-abiding driver when he first came to the attention of police. Despite the fact that Raymond Noel was just making a visit to a local supermarket, police assessed his vehicle as looking “dodgy”.

We heard that the police drove at 134km/h without lights or sirens at night. We heard that the police vehicle drove at speeds of over 150km/hr when crossing an intersection, while a witness was exiting her car. We heard that police were unaware what their speeds were at any point during the pursuit, even as they accelerated to over triple the legal limit.

We heard that the police believed their response to identifying an unregistered vehicle to be appropriate.

We heard the Assistant Commissioner for Road Policing state that there were no inherent risks in pursuits. And we also heard an experienced pursuit controller say that, given the chance, he would have terminated the pursuit.

We heard evidence that, despite Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people being disproportionately represented in deaths by police pursuits, Victoria Police does not provide any training to members on understanding and contextualising the responses of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander motorists who are intercepted by police.

VALS’ and the Thomas-Williams family’s submissions

VALS made submissions that, at the very least, the Coroner should recommend that the Victoria Police investigation of the incident, that found no criminality, wrongdoing, or breaches of policy on the part of the officers involved, be disregarded and the matter be re- investigated from scratch. The original investigation was plagued by factual errors and inconsistencies that have only been brought to light through the inquest process.

VALS also submitted that the pursuits policies should be changed to significantly limit the scope for police to conduct pursuits and urgent duty driving. It is only in very rare circumstances that the risk to public safety in not pursuing would outweigh the safety risk of engaging in a pursuit.

VALS has asked the Coroner to make recommendations that the pursuits policy be amended so it has a clearer risk assessment; that police should always know their speed and should not be allowed to pursue if they do not; and that police receive training on how their conduct and behaviour might affect Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander drivers.

Waiting on the Coroner’s findings and recommendations

As we now wait for the Coroner to make his findings and recommendations, we hope that the recommendations will assist to prevent future deaths, injuries and trauma resulting from police pursuits.

Quotes Attributable to Aunty Debbie Williams, Raymond Noel’s mother

“Raymond’s brothers will never be the same. The four brothers were inseparable and absolutely in sync with one another. Every day, I mean every day, all you could hear was the laughter and non-stop talking. Raymond was born a warrior and a keeper of all his siblings, especially his sisters Amy, Nahtia and Tamika.”

“The loss of our son; there are no real words to say how heartbroken and devastated we are, how heavy you carry grief.”

Quotes Attributable to Uncle Raymond Thomas Senior, Raymond Noel’s father

“The grief will always be there. You only look at a photo and you get teary-eyed, you talk, you get teary-eyed and it just all swells up in you and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s just like constantly riding a wave of grief.”

“This process of the inquest and hearing the facts, especially from the eye-witnesses, has helped me deeply as it is now clear in my mind what actually happened on the night.”

Quotes Attributable to George Selvanera, Acting CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

“For four years, Raymond Noel’s family has waited for answers. For four years they have advocated for Raymond Noel, for justice, for accountability for his tragic death, and for no other family to experience the grief and the sorrow they have had to endure, and will continue to endure for the rest of their lives.”

“The dignity, the courage, the strength of the Thomas-Williams family is moving, and we hope that they will find some solace through this coronial inquest.”

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.

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.

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.