Maurice Blackburn, Australia’s leading class action law firm, has started a class action legal case on behalf of young people subjected to assault, battery, and/or false imprisonment in youth detention centres in the Northern Territory, beyond the lawful powers given to prison authorities by the Youth Justice Act (NT). The class action was filed on 23 December 2016.
Background to the Class Action
On 25 July 2016, ABC’s Four Corners aired a report entitled ‘Australia’s Shame’ which laid bare the mistreatment of detainees at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. The report centred on the treatment of four boys while they were detained at Don Dale. It revealed the regular use of restraints, physical violence and isolation.
This was not the first time that the Northern Territory’s juvenile justice system was the subject of significant public criticism. In the years prior, a number of formal reports alerted the Northern Territory Government to the inappropriate practices in their youth detention centres. It was clear from an early stage that the problems in the juvenile justice system were not single, isolated events, but systemic failings.
In response to the Four Corners report and public outrage, the Commonwealth Government announced the establishment of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. The Royal Commission process included public hearings and it will hand down a final report on 1 August 2017.
What is the Class Action about?
The class action is brought by Dylan Jenkings and Aaron Hyde, both former detainees of Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. Maurice Blackburn’s clients allege that during their detention they were assaulted, battered and falsely imprisoned beyond the lawful powers given to prison authorities. The action is brought on their own behalf and on behalf of other young people mistreated in any Northern Territory youth detention centre between 1 August 2006 and 23 December 2016.
Mr Jenkings claims that in or about April 2016, he was threatened with tear gas, punched twice in the back of the head and beaten with batons by prison guards at Don Dale, then placed in a cell for 48 hours straight. Mr Jenkings also claims that another time in or about July 2016, he was beaten and kicked by guards in the High Security Unit of Don Dale while he was handcuffed.
Mr Hyde claims that in May or June of 2012 he was taken from his room in Don Dale, handcuffed when he did not need to be, bashed in the ribs by prison guards, taken to the Don Dale basketball court where he was handcuffed to the fence with his arms above his head and left there for up to an hour; then he was taken to the Don Dale Behavioural Management Unit and forced to strip to his underpants, left with no clothes or blankets, and held in BMU for two to three weeks.
Mr Jenkings and Mr Hyde allege that their treatment amounts to assault, battery, and/or false imprisonment beyond the lawful powers given to prison guards.
Mr Jenkings also bought a representative complaint in the Australian Human Rights Commission, alleging that the mistreatment of young people in youth detention amounted to racial discrimination in breach of section 9(1) of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth). The complaint alleged that the mistreatment of young people in Northern Territory youth detention centres amounts to racial discrimination, in that it happened because the overwhelming majority of young people in detention in the Northern Territory are Indigenous Australians.
On 28 March 2017, the Australian Human Rights Commission issued a notice that allowed the racial discrimination claim to be brought in the Federal Court of Australia as part of the class action.
Who is part of the Class Action?
The class action makes a claim on behalf of every person who:
- was detained in a youth detention centre in the Northern Territory at any time between 1 August 2006 and 23 December 2016; and
- while detained, was subjected to isolation or restraint, physical assault or threats of physical assault by prison guards and that these actions were beyond the lawful powers given to prison guards; and
- was not a plaintiff in any of the following proceedings in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory: No 15 of 2015 (21508787), No 26 of 2015 (21513348), No 14 of 2015 (21508784), No 19 of 2015 (21510204), No 16 of 2016 (21615113) and No 24 of 2016 (21617890).
Between 1 August 2006 and 23 December 2016, the following locations were classified as “youth detention centres”:
- The Don Dale Centre, Berrimah (old Don Dale) up until 21 December 2014;
- Portion 2173, Hundred of Bagot (new Don Dale) from 21 December 2014 to present;
- Arunda House, Lot 283, Kempe Street, Alice Springs from 29 October 2014 to 31 March 2015;
- The Darwin Youth Justice Court from 15 February 2016 to present;
- Parts of Darwin Correctional Centre from 19 August 2014 to present;
- “W Block” at Alice Springs Correctional Centre from 25 March 2011; and
- Court cells 5 and 6 of the Darwin Magistrates Court from 12 December 2013.
Young people who were held at these detention centres during those times may be part of the class action, and are called “Class Members”.
Class Members do not need to do anything at present to stay part of the case. At some stage, the Federal Court will give Class Members the chance to opt out of the class action if they do not want to be part of it.
Register your interest
If you think that you or someone you know might be a Class Member, please register so Maurice Blackburn can tell you what is happening in the class action. Or you can call Maurice Blackburn on the free number 1800 226 211 and we can do the registration over the phone.
Laws often give a set time limit for a case to be started using that law. If a case is started after that time the Court cannot hear it. In this case the time limit is 6 months, but the Court can give longer in certain circumstances.
Mr Jenkings and Mr Hyde have asked the Court to give longer to themselves and all Class Members so that the Court can hear their cases. It will still be up to the Court to decide whether to give that extra time.