Royal Commission terms of reference a missed opportunity - lawyers

28th Jul 2016

The Australian Lawyers Alliance said today that the Turnbull Government had missed a once in a generation opportunity to deal with the inherent racism of the Australian legal system towards Indigenous people.

The Alliance also queried whether the appointment of former Northern Territory (NT) Chief Justice Brian Martin was the right choice at Royal Commissioner given the high rates of incarceration of youth and adults, particularly Indigenous people, in which the judiciary has played a part.

ALA Spokesman Greg Barns said that Mr Turnbull should have heeded widespread community opposition to his view that a Royal Commission into NT youth detention ought to be narrowly focused.

“Youth detention is an outmoded concept and is particularly damaging for Indigenous Australians, as we know.  There are thousands of Indigenous young people who are entrenched in the youth detention system across Australia. The revelations of what is happening in the NT should have resulted in a broad Royal Commission.  The risk now is that mistreatment and abuse in other parts of Australia will continue, out of sight and out of mind of the narrow Royal Commission in the NT”, said Mr Barns.

The ALA also queried the appointment of former NT Chief Justice Brian Martin as Royal Commissioner. 

“While Mr Martin has had a distinguished career and no doubt has insight into the NT justice system, it would have been preferable to draw upon the expertise and wisdom of a retired judicial officer without this connection to the NT. Detention of young people in the NT has been sanctioned by the courts there, including by Mr Martin and his colleagues. While we have no doubt as to Mr Martin’s utmost integrity, having a former Chief Justice of the NT Supreme Court as the Commissioner opens the inquiry up to perceptions of a conflict of interest.

“It is advisable to also appoint a prominent expert in youth justice matters and Indigenous elders and experts to work with Mr Martin.  Youth justice is highly specialised and there are a number of eminent practitioners and judicial officers with that experience.  Their input into this Royal Commission is crucial.

“Further, to ensure this commission wins the respect of the Indigenous community and is able to adequately respond to its concerns, engagement of Indigenous elders and experts will be essential,” Mr Barns said.

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