ALA welcomes Royal Commission announcement into children in detention

26th Jul 2016

The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) has today offered its strong support for the announcement of a Royal Commission into juvenile detention, following reports of appalling and sickening torture and ill treatment within juvenile detention in the Northern Territory.

The reports were aired last night in a shocking expose by the ABC’s 4 Corners program, including documenting the sickening abuse of children in the Territory’s broken detention regime, including grave depravation of basic human rights.

“What we saw last night was an international scandal. Australia’s human rights record is already damaged in light of treatment of indigenous people and asylum seekers, and last night’s shocking report shows we still have a very long way to go in addressing these issues,” said Greg Barns, ALA spokesperson on criminal justice.

“The ALA welcomes Prime Minister Turnbull’s announcement of a Royal Commission today – the incidents that have been brought to light warrant nothing less.

“It is essential also that the terms of reference for the Royal Commission are broad, to ensure that no child in detention or care of Australian Governments can be mistreated in this way, including in both incarceration and in detention.

“This footage is wake up call for Australia. All places where children are detained should be investigated by the Royal Commission. There is no reason to believe that, just because the ABC managed to get footage from one detention facility, that the same problem is not being replicated wherever children are denied their freedom and basic human rights.

Suggestions that the bureaucracy were aware of these abusive practices are particularly disturbing. Accountability at the highest levels is essential,” he said.

Mr Barns said that while a Royal Commission was essential, immediate system changes must also be made.

“The incidents that have been highlighted within the Territory’s prison system regarding the treatment of vulnerable children is nothing short of horrific,” Mr Barns said.

“Sentencing practices must be reviewed to ensure that international human rights obligations are met now, not after a Royal Commission has taken the time to investigate and report.

“Children should only ever be detained as a last resort, and for the shortest amount of time possible, with genuine efforts made at rehabilitation.

“Guards must be trained in working with children and cultural sensitivity. To have untrained security officers thrown in to deal with troubled youth is a recipe for disaster,” he said.

A number of Australia’s international human rights obligations appear to have been breached in the footage aired on Monday night.

International law requires that the best interest of the child be paramount, that detention be used as a last resort and that torture and ill-treatment are never permissible. This footage indicates that Australia is in serious breach of these obligations and more, and further point to the need for strengthened human rights legislation around Australia.

Tags: Human rights Northern Territory Criminal justice Indigenous rights Greg Barns