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Royal Commissioner Appointed to Investigate NT Youth Detention

28 July 2016 at 4:37 pm
Lina Caneva
The federal government has appointed former Northern Territory Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Ross Martin AO to head the royal commission into the state’s child protection and youth detention services.

Lina Caneva | 28 July 2016 at 4:37 pm


Royal Commissioner Appointed to Investigate NT Youth Detention
28 July 2016 at 4:37 pm

The federal government has appointed former Northern Territory Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Ross Martin AO to head the royal commission into the state’s child protection and youth detention services.

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Prime Minister Turnbull has also recommended the terms of reference for the royal commission to the Governor-General Peter Cosgrove.

The move comes in response to the damning ABC Four Corners report on Monday.

The ABC program likened the juvenile detention system to Guantanamo Bay, which is controlled by the US, showing footage of a 17-year-old strapped into a mechanical restraint chair in the Northern Territory’s Don Dale detention facility, along with a series of other videos, showing the repeated stripping, assault and mistreatment of him and other boys including the use of tear gas.

Martin has been a former chief justice of the Northern Territory, a justice of the supreme courts of South Australia and Western Australia, and has served as the Director of Public Prosecutions of the Commonwealth.

“Mr Martin is eminently qualified to undertake this important role, and will bring to the royal commission a wealth of legal experience,” Turnbull said.

“He has a deep understanding of the legal and justice systems of the Northern Territory, and a deep familiarity with issues arising from the engagement of Indigenous people… with the criminal justice and penal systems.

“The royal commission will conduct a thorough and thoroughly independent inquiry into the specific systemic problems identified within the Northern Territory, how those problems arose, the failure to identify and correct them, and appropriate reforms.”

He said the royal commission would identify the causes and failures in the Northern Territory, and provide lessons from which other correctional institutions and child-protection institutions in Australia could learn from, to ensure they are not repeated elsewhere.

“It’s important to note that the matters of concern at the Don Dale Centre are in relation to the treatment of all youth in detention centres. It’s also important to recognise, in the territory, a significant number of these young people are Aboriginal and Indigenous people.

“Indigenous Australians make up 45 per cent of the 10-17-year-old population of the Northern Territory, but 95 per cent of that age cohort in detention.”

Attorney-General George Brandis said the terms of reference for the royal commission  were developed in consultation with Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles and were comprehensive enough to get to the bottom of the problems.

“The principal term of reference asks the royal commissioner to examine failings in the child protection and youth detention systems administered by the Government of the Northern Territory,” Brandis said.

He said the scope of the inquiry would examine the Northern Territory’s Youth Justice Act which has been in operation since 2006.

“The royal commissioner is asked to examine the treatment of children and young persons detained at all youth detention facilities administered by the Northern Territory Government, including the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre,” Brandis said.

“The royal commission will also consider whether any such treatment might have been a breach of any Commonwealth or Northern Territory law, a breach of the Northern Territory’s duty of care or other relevant duty, a breach of human rights obligations adopted by Australia or the Northern Territory, or a breach of any relevant policy, rule, procedure, standard or management practice applicable to those facilities.

“We’ve asked the royal commissioner to examine what, if any, oversight mechanisms and safeguards were in place and, if so, why they failed. We’ve asked him to inquire into whether there are or were, any deficiencies of the organisational culture, structure and management in the Northern Territory’s youth detention facilities.

“Finally, we ask the royal commissioner to consider the access by children and young persons detained in the juvenile detention network in the Northern Territory to appropriate medical care including psychiatric care.

“We believe that these terms of reference are both sufficiently focused but, at the same time, sufficiently broad that we’ll get tangible outcomes from this inquiry which will see a measurable improvement in the delivery of these services by the Government of the Northern Territory.”

Commissioner Martin said he hoped to hold a directions hearing on 6 September 2016 with a view to commencing hearings in early October.

“But you will appreciate that there’s much to be done in the meantime. As has been mentioned, a number of people, and organisations, have already indicated their willingness to assist in their desire to put information before this commission. So, we look forward to hearing from anyone who believes that they have useful information that can assist,” Martin said.

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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