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Statement from Victorian Legal Services Board CEO and Commissioner Fiona McLeay on the Coroner's findings into the death of Veronica Nelson

Please note this statement includes the name of a deceased First Nations person. Her name is used with the permission of her family.

We acknowledge the recently released report of the Coroner into the death of Veronica Nelson.

Ms Nelson, 37, was a proud Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman, who passed away in tragic circumstances while in State custody on 2 January 2020.

We offer our deepest condolences to Ms Nelson’s mum Aunty Donna Nelson, her partner Uncle Percy Lovett and her family, friends and community for their profound loss. We read your statements with great sadness as you spoke about losing your kin in custody.

As Coroner Simon McGregor said, Ms Nelson’s death was "preventable". As the regulator of the legal profession in Victoria, we believe everyone who exercises their basic right to have legal representation should also receive an appropriate standard of legal service.

I have initiated a complaint and investigation of my own motion into the conduct of lawyer Tass Antos, following the finding by Coroner McGregor that the legal services he provided to Ms Nelson were inadequate.

The VLSB+C also accepts and agrees with the Coroner's recommendation directed to us on the need for mandated cultural awareness training for lawyers.

As the power to mandate continuing professional development (CPD) for lawyers sits with the Law Council of Australia (LCA), we will raise this directly with the LCA. In addition, we will do all we can to ensure First Nations cultural awareness training is available to lawyers in Victoria when planning their annual CPD key requirement.

As this develops, we strongly encourage lawyers to reflect on and build their understanding of First Nations People’s culture and needs, particularly if working with them directly.

We are continuing to work with our stakeholders in the legal sector, including Victoria Legal Aid and the Law Institute of Victoria, to improve cultural awareness among lawyers and will update the profession and the community as we make progress on this work.

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