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Government backflip on youth justice reforms stirs Law Society

The Law Society Northern Territory (the Society) is deeply concerned by the bill introduced to parliament yesterday proposing regressive amendments to the Youth Justice Act 2005.

The Society’s President, Maria Savvas, said “These amendments to the Youth Justice Act 2005 are a retrograde step and bypass recommendations from the Royal Commission. The Society welcomed the amendments made to the Youth Justice Act 2005 in May 2018 as an important step toward achieving a youth justice system to the standard expected by the community and envisioned by Commissioners White and Gooda. It is bewildering why these amendments have had to be made on an urgent basis and to apply retrospectively.”

The Society is apprehensive that the bill will allow greater use of restraints similar to those seen in the infamous footage aired in the ABC Four Corners exposé that sparked the Royal Commission in 2016. The bill introduces ambiguities that potentially allow for more children to be held in solitary confinement. Further it will allow children to be shunted between detention centres in Alice Springs and Darwin according to operational needs of the centres, rather than the best interests of the children as recommended by the Royal Commission.

“This bill strips away safeguards that are meant to protect children. The types of abuse that led to the calling of the Royal Commission can be repeated if this legislation is passed”, Ms Savvas said.
Ms Savvas said “When the Royal Commission recommendations were announced, the community dared to hope that the Territory would achieve the balance between a child’s right to be treated with dignity and the safe operation of youth justice centres in the Northern Territory.”

When the Government introduced the bill on urgency yesterday Minister Wakefield stated that the bill does not represent a change in policy. The Society disagrees with this statement by the Minister. Ms Savvas said, “This bill disregards the spirit and intent of the Royal Commission recommendations. It represents a clear change in policy. We are gravely concerned that the amendments chip away at the rights of children and young people in youth detention.”

Ms Savvas said “Together with the failure to raise the age of criminal responsibility and replace the Don Dale Youth Detention Facility, these amendments represent the Northern Territory Government resiling from its previous acceptance of the intent and direction of all 227 Royal Commission recommendations.”

“Youth detention in the Northern Territory is broken. The Royal Commission laid out a framework for reform. The failure to make changes consistent with this framework is perpetuating the harm to young people in detention in the Northern Territory.”, Ms Savvas said.

The Society is calling on the Northern Territory Government to withdraw the bill pending proper consultation with stakeholders to ensure any amendments to the Youth Justice Act 2005 are consistent
with the Royal Commission recommendations. The lack of consultation prior to the introduction of this bill is disturbing. Proper consultation would enable the Government to ensure the implementation of the Royal Commission recommendations included many voices and achieve a balance between children’s human right to be treated with dignity and the safe operation of detention centres.

End of Release.

Click here to view the full Media Release.


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