Royal Commission into NT Youth Detention: Terms of Reference Released, Commissioner Resigns

Monday 1 August 2016 @ 10.55 a.m. | Crime | Judiciary, Legal Profession & Procedure | Legal Research

The Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government have released the terms of reference for the Royal Commission into the Child Protection and Youth Detention Systems of the Government of the Northern Territory.  The Royal Commission will be due to report by March 2017.

For an in-depth look into the background behind the announcement of the Royal Commission, see TimeBase’s earlier article - Juvenile Detention: The NT Revelations Prompt Royal Commission Response.

The Government has also announced the appointment of the Hon Brian Ross Martin AO QC as the Royal Commissioner.  However, this appointment has been shortlived, with the Hon Brian Martin issuing a statement on Monday afternoon (1 August 2016) saying he would be asking the Governor-General to revoke the letters patent and that he should not continue as the Royal Commissioner.

Terms of Reference

The Royal Commission is required to examine “failings in the child protection and youth detention systems of the Government of the Northern Territory during the period since the commencement of the Youth Justice Act of the Northern Territory” and will cover “the treatment… of children and young persons detained at youth detention facilities administered by the Government of the Northern Territory , including the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin”.  The Act commenced on 1 August 2006.

The Royal Commission will also examine:

  • Whether any laws or human rights were breached;
  • The oversight mechanisms and safeguards in place at the time;
  • Whether the oversight mechanisms and safeguards failed, and if so, why;
  • Whether there were deficiencies in the facilities’ organisational culture, structure or management;
  • Whether more should have been done by the Northern Territory Government, in particular with regards to recommendations from reports and reviews into the youth detention centres;
  • What measures should be adopted to prevent inappropriate treatment in the future, including:

i. law reform; and

ii. reform of administrative practices; and  

iii. reform of oversight measures and safeguards; and

iv. reform of management practices, education, training and suitability of officers; and

v. any other relevant matters;

  • What improvements can be made to the child protection system;
  • Access from the facilities to medical and psychiatric care; and
  • “[A]ny matter reasonably incidental.”

Appointment of the Royal Commissioner

The Hon Brian Ross Martin AO QC is the former chief justice of the Northern Territory Supreme Court, who has also served as the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions before being appointed to the South Australian Supreme Court. 

Reports from this weekend suggested that the Royal Commissioner was “considering his position”, with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting that:

“Since the appointment, there has been disquiet among some NT groups regarding Mr Martin's perceived conflicts of interest, stemming from his time as chief justice of the NT Supreme Court, a history with the Country Liberal Party government, and his daughter's previous job with the NT's former Labor attorney-general.”

A number of indigenous organisations objected to his appointment, and the Sydney Morning Herald reported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda saying that “the people in the Northern Territory… say they don’t have that much confidence in him.”

There have also been calls made to appoint an Indigenous co-commissioner, and questions raised about whether the terms of reference include the role of race and racism.

Mr Martin released an official statement this afternoon (1 August 2016) saying:

"Since my appointment was announced I have been extremely disappointed with the disingenuous and ill-informed comment that has ensued. However, notwithstanding the ill-informed nature of the commentary, it has become apparent that, rightly or wrongly, in this role I would not have the full confidence of sections of the Indigenous community which has a vital interest in the inquiry. As a consequence, the effectiveness of the Commission is likely to be compromised from the outset.

I am not prepared to proceed in the face of that risk. This Royal Commission is far too important to undertake that risk and, in the public interest, personal considerations must take second place."

TimeBase is an independent, privately owned Australian legal publisher specialising in the online delivery of accurate, comprehensive and innovative legislation research tools including LawOne and unique Point-in-Time Products.

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