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Youth justice reform hailed, government urged to do more

Law Society Northern Territory (Society) welcomes the passing of the amendments to the Youth Justice Act (Act) but calls on the government to do more.

The landmark amendments passed by the Parliament yesterday were based on key recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory (Royal Commission). This reform prohibits harm to children and prevents cruel and inhumane treatment in youth justice facilities. “The amendments now prohibit the use of solitary confinement as a form of punishment, limit the use of force, prohibit the use of restraints for behavioural management and limit the way searches can be conducted. These changes ensure the horrors of Don Dale are not repeated,” Society President Maria Savvas said.

Ms Savvas, said, “The Society congratulates the government for promptly implementing these as part of the first round of changes following the recommendations of the Royal Commission and leading the way on treating children and young people in a humane way. However we are of the view that there is more that can, and should be done at this early stage. The recently released implementation plan allows three years for a wholescale review of the Act. That is too long to wait for some of the other areas that require immediate reform.”

The Society is calling on the government to urgently implement some of the other key recommendations of the Royal Commission, particularly amendments to the Bail Act to address bail considerations for young people and to remove the offence of breach of bail for young people in the Northern Territory.

“The Northern Territory is among the few jurisdictions in Australia in which a young person can be charged with a separate offence of breaching bail. In other jurisdictions if a young person doesn’t comply with their bail conditions there may be a warning given about their non-compliance or they are brought back before the Court for a judge to review their bail, which may result in a change to the bail conditions or bail being revoked and the young person placed in detention if necessary. Evidence clearly shows us that many youth in detention are on remand waiting for their matters to be finalised. The Royal Commission identified that the breach of bail offence was one of a range of factors leading to increasing numbers of children being held on remand. There are many contributing factors to a young person not complying with their bail conditions - charging them with an offence for breaching their bail and locking them up in detention is not the answer.” , Ms Savvas said.

Ms Savvas observed, “The Royal Commission made a number of specific recommendations about changes to the Bail Act, including the removal of the offence for breaching bail for young people and replacing it with other approaches to address any breaches of bail, and the Society urges the Northern Territory government to introduce these amendments now, rather than waiting for the second phase of the Implementation Plan and the review of the entire Youth Justice Act in the next 3 years. The introduction of the offence of breach of bail for young people was introduced in 2011 and the Society thinks it can be easily reversed whilst the broader and more substantial wholesale review of the Youth Justice legislation occurs.”

END OF RELEASE

Contact person:

Ms Maria Savvas
President

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