New legislation a key step to reforming the NT’s youth detention system, but must be matched with action

10 May 2018
Lawyers heading a class action for young people abused while in detention in the Northern Territory’s youth justice system say a new bill passed today could be pivotal to reforming the system, but compliance is the key to driving real change.

Maurice Blackburn Principal Ben Slade, who is leading the class action, said the passing today of the Youth Justice Amendment Bill 2018 was also a further reason for the Northern Territory Government to act in seeking a resolution of the class action as soon as possible.

“With the passing of this Bill today the Northern Territory Government has made clear that it never again wants to see young people in youth detention treated with excessive force or isolated for days and weeks on end,” Mr Slade said.

“These reforms are very welcome, but it is also crucial that a strong message is sent that these new measures must be complied with - as we have seen with many of the clients in our class action and in cases before the Royal Commission, laws have been in place in the past to protect young people in detention, but those laws were more honoured in the breach than the observance.

“Today’s legislation sees a significant overhaul of the Youth Justice Act, a welcome move that in our view is also a further acknowledgement from the Northern Territory Government that young people in the youth detention system have been treated appallingly.

“Yet despite this, the Government continues to vigorously defend the class action, including making repeated attempts to have the action struck out of court and even going so far as to refusing to admit that over the past 10 years that any wrongs, including assault, battery and excessive isolation, were committed.

“We again today call on the Northern Territory Government, in light of these developments, to sit down with us and discuss a fair compensation regime that recognises the harm done to young people in detention,” he said.