The inquest into the death of 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker, who was shot by a Northern Territory police officer in 2019, will no longer begin in his home community of Yuendumu.
- Family have requested the inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Walker no longer begin in his community
- He died after being fatally shot by Constable Zachary Rolfe in 2019, who was found not guilty of all charges
- The NT Coroner will examine his death for three months from September 5
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains an image of a person who has died, used with the permission of their family.
Kumanjayi Walker died after he was shot by Constable Zachary Rolfe during an attempted arrest in Yuendumu in November 2019.
Constable Rolfe was found not guilty of murder after a five-week Supreme Court trial earlier this year.
Northern Territory Coroner, Libby Armitage, will preside over a three-month inquest into his death, which had earlier been flagged to start in the remote community, about 300 kilometers from Alice Springs.
‘Change in circumstances’ in Yuendumu
Legal representatives of Mr Walker’s family and community today told the Coroner it would no longer be “appropriate” for the inquest to start in Yuendumu.
Representatives for the Lane, Walker and Robertson families, who cared for Mr Walker, said a “change in circumstances” in Yuendumu meant their feelings towards the inquest being held in community had changed.
Representing the NT Police Force, Dr Ian Freckleton told the coroner local police were aware of an “incident” in the community, which had led to heightened tensions.
The lawyer representing the Yuendumu Parumpurru (Justice) Committee told the coroner his clients “greatly appreciate” the efforts made to hold the beginning of proceedings in the community, but that the inquest should commence at Alice Springs.
Counsel Assisting the coroner, Dr Peggy Dwyer, noted “considerable” logistics, including accommodation and court facilities, had been organized for the inquest to sit in Yuendumu for two days and that the coroner will be required to visit the community at some stage throughout the inquiry
“I will have discussions with the family and community as we progress, to see how that [visit] can be done in a way that is sensitive and most respectful to the family and community,” Dr Dwyer said.
Dr Dwyer suggested the coroner may use that opportunity to engage informally with members of the Yuendumu community and hear their stories.
“There is increasing emphasis on the Coroner’s Courts in the Northern Territory and in other jurisdictions around Australia, of the need to make every effort to make coronial proceedings inclusive to families and the community and to respect Aboriginal culture,” Dr Dwyer said.
Dr Dwyer noted not everyone in the Yuendumu community was of the view the inquest should no longer start there, but that those who were directly involved in the inquest had made the request.
Inquest to be live streamed
Opening today’s hearing with an acknowledgment of country, Ms Armitage welcomed members of Mr Walker’s family who were listening via an online live stream.
The court heard a website will be developed to ensure the entirety of the coronial inquiry can be accessed online, as well as resources in language for community members who don’t speak English.
“I acknowledge this court is not likely to ever feel comfortable for the family or witnesses,” Dr Dwyer said.
“But every effort will be made to make this more open and inclusive.”
Dr Dwyer said videos explaining the coronial process have been filmed and the coroner’s opening address, as well as the Counsel Assisting’s opening address, will be translated and made available on the website.
She also encouraged members of the community to reach out to herself and her colleagues with any questions.
The inquest is scheduled to run for three months, beginning on September 5 in Alice Springs.