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Remember Melanie and Winmartie? The Royal Commission seeks a progress report.

The Disability Royal Commission will continue its examination of the experiences of people with cognitive disability in the criminal justice system when it holds public hearing 15 on 12 and 13 August 2021. This hearing will examine what happens when services and supports are sought by or for people with cognitive disability in the criminal justice system from the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

This fifteenth hearing follows on from public hearing 11 when Senior Counsel Assisting Dr Kerri Mellifont stated in her opening remarks that “some of the evidence in this hearing speaks of people’s experiences in trying to access services from States or through the NDIS, and the sense by some of responsibility being shuffled between the two. We note that there will be a second part of this hearing, at a later time, which will enable the States and the NDIA to be heard on these issues.”

During public hearing 11 the Royal Commission learnt about Melanie and Winmartie, both of whom are being held in indefinite forensic detention facilities with no certainty about when they might be released. We will seek a progress report on their current conditions and ask what arrangements are being made for the future.  

At the conclusion of public hearing 11 Chair Ronald Sackville AO QC, said “What is incontrovertible is that both Melanie and Winmartie have endured conditions to which no person in Australia should ever be subjected, let alone people who are not actually serving a sentence for a criminal offence of which they have been convicted.”

Among a wide range of issues, their respective case studies serve to highlight the barriers that can arise for people with cognitive disability when attempts are made to transition them into the community.

In public hearing 15 the question will be asked of the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments and the NDIS about who is responsible for providing the necessary supports and services to assist people with cognitive disability to transition from custodial environments? The hearing will be closed to the public because of COVID-19, but will be live-streamed on the Royal Commission website and include live captioning and Auslan-English interpreters.

Although the Royal Commission has held several successful remote hearings in the earlier stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, preparations for public hearing 15 have been particularly difficult. This is due to the ongoing nature of the current health restrictions posed by the extended lockdown in Greater Sydney and snap lockdowns in Melbourne and Brisbane.

The Royal Commission deeply regrets that hearings have had to be rescheduled during this time, however, it has been necessary to protect the health and safety of witnesses, Royal Commission staff and the general public

Chair, Ronald Sackville AO QC will preside over this hearing and is joined by Commissioners Alastair McEwin AM and Commissioner Andrea Mason OAM.

Senior Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission is Dr Kerri Mellifont QC, along with Ms Janice Crawford and Mr Ben Power.

Please note journalists should register with the DRC media team for a Lexel log-in code to be allocated.

Please direct all inquiries to the DRC Media team on 0436 841 066 or via our email DRCmedia@royalcommission.gov.au