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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Nino Bucci

Family of Kumanjayi Walker say they were not adequately consulted over inquest timing

Kumanjayi Walker.
An inquest will be held into the death of Kumanjayi Walker, who was shot three times by Constable Zachary Rolfe. The police officer was found not guilt of all charges. Photograph: supplied by his family

Members of Kumanjayi Walker’s family have said in submissions to the Northern Territory coroner that they weren’t consulted about the timing of the Warlpiri’s man’s inquest, raising concerns the current plan will limit their participation.

Constable Zachary Rolfe shot Walker three times while trying to arrest him on 9 November 2019 in Yuendumu, about 300km from Alice Springs. A jury unanimously found Rolfe not guilty of murder and two alternative charges on 11 March this year after a six-week trial in the NT supreme court.

Attention has now turned to the inquest into Walker’s death, with a directions hearing held in Darwin on Tuesday.

Submissions made by the families of Walker’s father, mother, and partner say they are not satisfied with a plan for the inquest to run for three months starting in September. They say they would prefer it not be conducted in a single block as to do so would prevent them from participating in any “meaningful” way.

The Walker, Robertson and Lane families submitted five reasons supporting the proposal to break the inquest into separate blocks, saying they were yet to receive financial assistance which would allow them to participate, and that the death and lengthy criminal trial had traumatised them.

“Media attacks on Kumanjayi Walker’s character subsequent to the trial… have exacerbated their distress,” the submission reads.

“To now expect these families to sit a further continuous three months, as currently scheduled, especially without a proper appreciation of this process, is an unfair burden on them.”

The families submitted that the inquest should instead first establish the primary facts of the case, before acting NT coroner Elisabeth Armitage then asked for submissions from relevant parties – including the families – about whether further issues needed to be considered, or expert evidence was required.

In their submission, the families said there were 11 issues which should be explored to determine the “primary facts” in the case.

These included decisions made to send the heavily armed immediate response team, of which Rolfe was a member, to Yuendumu; the training and any disciplinary history of Rolfe; the response of the police and health authorities to the community after the shooting; the history of interactions between Walker and the justice and health systems; and actions by police immediately after the shooting.

Armitage agreed on Tuesday to formally include the families as a party to the inquest, along with six other parties: the Brown family, representing Walker’s adopted mother; the NT police; NT health department; Rolfe; the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency; and the Parumpurru Committee of Yuendumu Community.

Dr Peggy Dwyer, counsel assisting the coroner, said the inquest into the Victoria police shooting of 15-year-old Tyler Cassidy served as a precedent for allowing “interest groups” such as the health department, NAAJA and Parumpurru Committee to become parties to a case.

She said she was “very aware of the community’s concerns” as raised in their submissions and would continue to engage with their lawyers, but advised Armitage that issues about the duration of the inquest raised in those submissions should not be considered until a further directions hearing on 20 May.

Dwyer said she planned to meet with members of Walker’s family before the next directions hearing and hoped their lawyers would help facilitate that.

At almost the same time the directions hearing ended, the NT police released a statement confirming the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption was investigating its decision to charge constable Zachary Rolfe with Walker’s murder.

“Northern Territory Police have been advised that the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption will investigate the process that led to the arrest and charging of Constable Zachary Rolfe,” the NT police said in a statement.

“NT Police will cooperate fully with the inquiry. As the matter is now before the ICAC there will be no further comment.”

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