South Australian state coroners now have powers to compel witnesses to testify and answer questions, even if the information may be incriminating or result in a penalty.
The Coroners (Inquests and Privilege) Amendment Act 2021 that passed in the SA parliament earlier this year has now come into effect.
SA attorney-general Vickie Chapman said the changes mean that coronial inquest witnesses must provide evidence when called, and added protections for witnesses compelled to answer the coroner’s questions.
“This reform makes it clear that witnesses must provide evidence, however, it also includes protections for witnesses compelled to answer questions.
“When this occurs, a certificate will be issued that prevents the use of that evidence in other proceedings,” Chapman said.
The AG added that the reforms would help coroners more accurately understand circumstances where a person has, for example, died in custody.
“Evidence, both from medical sources and witness statements, is crucial to the coroner’s ability to provide thorough assessments of how a person has died, and, where appropriate, make recommendations to ensure similar deaths do not occur.
“This is particularly important in situations where the death occurred in custody, and witnesses may include police or corrections officers who fear their statements may incriminate them or lead to civil penalties,” she said.
The amendments will also reduce the number of mandatory coronial inquests which are held in SA and prevent case backlogs in the Coroner’s Court, Ms Chapman added.