Maurice Blackburn, Australia’s leading class action law firm, has filed a class action on behalf of current and former detainees at youth detention centres in the Northern Territory who were subjected to assault, battery, and/or false imprisonment during their detainment in excess of the lawful powers granted to prison guards. The class action was filed on 23 December 2016.
On 25 July 2016 Four Corners aired a report entitled ‘Australia’s Shame’ which laid bare the inappropriate treatment 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 of the system as a whole.
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 is currently holding public hearings and will hand down a final report on 1 August 2017.
The class action
The class action is brought by Dylan Jenkings and Aaron Hyde, both former detainees of Don Dale. Maurice Blackburn’s clients allege that during their detainment they were subjected to treatment giving rise to a civil claim for compensation founded on assault, battery and/or false imprisonment. The action is brought on their own behalf and on behalf of other past and present youth detainees in the Northern Territory juvenile justice system who were also assaulted, battered and/or falsely imprisoned in a manner that went beyond the lawful powers granted to prison guards.
Mr Jenkings claims that in or about April 2016, he was punched twice in the back of the head and beaten with batons by prison guards at Don Dale. Following this, he claims that he was placed in a cell for 48 hours and not permitted to leave the cell at any time during that period. Mr Jenkings also claims that on a separate occasion, in or about July 2016, he was beaten and kicked by guards in the High Security Unit of Don Dale while in handcuffs.
Similarly, Mr Hyde claims that in May or June of 2012 he was removed from his room in Don Dale, handcuffed when it was not necessary to do so and struck in the ribs multiple times by prison guards. He alleges that he was taken to the Don Dale basketball court where he was handcuffed to the fence with his arms above his head and left in that position for up to an hour. After being let down, Mr Hyde claims that he was taken to the Don Dale Behavioural Management Unit and forced to strip to his underpants. He claims to have been left in the BMU for two to three weeks.
Mr Jenkings and Mr Hyde allege that their treatment amounts to assault, battery, and/or false imprisonment in excess of the lawful powers granted to prison guards.
Mr Jenkings also brings a representative complaint in the Australian Human Rights Commission, alleging breach of section 9(1) of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth). The complaint alleges that the manner in which class members to that complaint were treated at Northern Territory youth detention centres amounts to racial discrimination, in that it would not have occurred if not for the fact that the overwhelming majority of young people in detention in the Northern Territory are Indigenous Australians.
Members of the class action
The class action makes a claim for all those who:
- were detained in a youth detention centre in the Northern Territory at any time between 1 August 2006 and 23 December 2016; and
- during the period or periods that were detained, were subjected to unreasonable periods of isolation or restraint, physical assault or threats of physical assault by prison guards that was beyond the lawful powers given to prison guards.
Members of the class are called “Group Members” in the class action. Subject to the issue below about limitation periods, members of the class do not need to do anything to remain in the class. At some stage, the Federal Court will give members of the class and opportunity 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 might be a member of the class and you want Maurice Blackburn to know about your circumstances and to tell you what is happening in the class action, you can register your interest using the registration form.
Alternatively, please contact Maurice Blackburn on 1800 226 211 and we can register your interest in the class action over the phone.
If a written law provides that a court case must be started within a specific period of time, then the person making the claim must but do so within that time or they may find the court rules throw their case out. The Youth Justice Act (NT) has a time limit in which it says that a proceeding in relation to something done under this law must be started within 6 months of when that thing was done. There is another law in the NT, section 44 of the Limitation Act, that gives people a right to apply for an extension of time and this law applies to claims under the Youth Justice Act.
Mr Jenkings and Mr Hyde have requested an extension of time for themselves and all members of the class. Maurice Blackburn is reasonably confident that the request for an extension of time in the class action should be enough to protect the immediate interests of all members of the class. That is, that in the class action, all group members will be seen by the court has having requested an extension of time if they need it.
This is not to say that all members of the class will be granted an extension of time if they were out of time as at 23 December 2016 when the class action was commenced.
The limitation law in the NT and how it works with the Federal Court class action regime is not clear and it might be best for people who think they are class members to register with Maurice Blackburn so that we can do as much as possible to protect their interests.
If you believe that you may have a claim under the class action, we encourage you to register your interest as soon as possible.