The Northern Territory (NT) Government aims to pass new youth justice laws. These contradict, undermine, and go against the damning findings and recommendations from the Royal Commission into the Don Dale Detention Centre. Some call the laws “Juvenile Injustice“.
The Royal Commission’s (RC) Report of 2017 found “shocking and systemic failures” over many years in the youth prison system. These are failures which continue to exist, unrectified and perpetuated by the government today. Despite the Recommendations of the RC into the Detention and Protection of Children in NT, the Government’s proposed changes would broaden the use of force and restraints against youth detainees.
Peter O’Brien of O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors, who represented a number of youth prisoners at the NT Royal Commission including Dylan Voller, said, “The Northern Territory Government has failed monumentally to do anything to change the culture that allowed the brutalisation of children in detention, and now envisage passing legislation that will condone it in the future. The hopeless incapacity to remedy the startling problems revealed by the NT Royal Commission is demonstrative of a failing youth justice system and a weak and morally bereft government.”
NT Bill Contradicts Don Dale Royal Commission Findings and Recommendations
A bill before the NT Parliament revealed a number of inconsistencies to the Don Dale Royal Commission findings and recommendations. Among the egregious amendments proposed towards the Youth Justice Act, the prohibition on the use of force or restraint for the purpose of maintaining the good order of a detention centre is in direct contradiction to Recommendation 13.4.
The new amendments also give the superintendent of a Youth Justice Centre free rein to transfer young people between detention centres as they see fit. That is inconsistent with Recommendation 11.2 of the NT Royal Commission findings.
Mr O’Brien criticised the NT Government for its urgency in pushing through the retrospective amendments. “The NT Government is a basket-case of knee-jerk, small-pond politicians, devoid of necessary long-sighted policy to solve complex problems,” he said.
The lawyer also admonished the continued operation of Don Dale Detention Centre, which “indicts the nation.” Other youth justice advocates such as NT Law Society and Criminal Lawyers Association NT (CLANT) have also spoken out against the implications of the new proposed laws and the speediness of the bill without proper scrutiny by legal and community groups. Mary Aust, President of CLANT, summed it up best: “It’s a dark day for justice in the NT.”