Award recognises Aunty Donna’s fight for accountability for daughter’s death in custody


Dja Dja Wurrung, Yorta Yorta and Gunditjmara woman Aunty Donna Nelson was today presented with the Australian Lawyers Alliance’s (ALA) 2023 Victoria Civil Justice Award recognising her determination to hold organisations to account for her daughter’s death in custody.

The annual ALA Civil Justice Award recognises individuals or organisations who have displayed an outstanding commitment to the pursuit of justice.

“Aunty Donna is a very deserving winner of our Civil Justice Award this year,” said ALA State President, Mr Lachlan Fitch. “Her determination to ensure the coroner investigated the death of her daughter Veronica Nelson resulted in the disclosure of a multitude of systemic failures within the criminal justice system.

“None of this negligence would have been exposed had Aunty Donna not pressed the Coroners Court to examine her daughter’s death by way of an inquest.

“The damming evidence revealed by the inquest means changes will be made to the way Indigenous people are treated by the criminal justice system, and the government will reform the state’s bail laws. These critical reforms are a direct result of Aunty Donna’s strength and determination to see the system held to account.”

The state government made changes to the Bail Act in 2018 in response to the 2017 Bourke Street massacre.

“Back in 2017 the ALA and many other legal groups warned that the proposed changes to bail laws would be harmful and unfortunately that has proven to be the case with the death of Veronica Nelson,” said Mr Fitch.

“The harm caused by the ‘tough on crime’ bail laws has disproportionately impacted First Nations people and the consequences have been tragic.”

Previous winners of the Victoria Civil Justice Award include a mix of individuals and organisations such as Victoria Legal Aid, Apryl Day, Lex Lasry AM, Julian McMahon AC SC, The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and The Law and Advocacy Centre for Women.

Aunty Donna was announced as the recipient of this award today at the ALA Victoria Conference at Cape Schanck.

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