Hundreds of former juvenile detainees could be compensated for allegedly suffering physical and psychological abuse inside Darwin’s notorious youth detention centres, after lawyers filed a class action against the Northern Territory Government.
The class action, thought to be a first for the Northern Territory, was filed by the legal firm Maurice and Blackburn and detailed allegations of “unlawful” mistreatment against former juvenile detainees Dylan Jenkings and Aaron Hyde, including false imprisonment, assault and battery.
If successful, the legal move would not only see Jenkings and Hyde compensated, but also set a precedent for others who have suffered inside NT youth corrections to be compensated.
“Our clients are concerned not only of their own treatment, but the treatment of other young people in youth detention centres,” lawyer Ben Slade said.
“These young people are entitled to be compensated for the wrong that was done to them.
“Things have to change.”
The class action is just the latest legal proceeding to emerge since the ABC’s Four Corners program showed footage detailing children being stripped naked, tear-gassed and physically abused inside NT youth detention facilities.
Application details alleged abuse
In an application filed to the Federal Court, lawyers claimed that in 2012 staff “struck” then-15-year-old Hyde several times in the ribs when the juvenile was handcuffed.
Staff then allegedly “slammed” Hyde’s head into a door frame, before handcuffing him for up to an hour to a basketball court fence with his arms above his head.
He was then allegedly stripped naked, placed into an isolation cell with no permanent bedding or tap water for up to three weeks.
Hyde’s mother Tracey Hyde said she found the document “confronting”.
“He was stripped naked and he’d been asking for a blanket and a guard told him to masturbate to keep himself warm,” she said.
“That should happen to nobody. Yes, there are kids that are in there for a reason, but that doesn’t mean you can treat them like animals.”
The document also alleged Jenkings and another young detainee were tear-gassed, before being taken to a room and “punched, kicked and struck … with batons and shields”, before being placed into solitary confinement for two days.
“These young people were beaten, they were regularly isolated in cells on their own, they were strip-searched and they were humiliated and frightened and … tortured,” Mr Slade said. “It is appalling conduct these people have suffered and they deserve to be compensated.”
When questioned about the children’s behaviour that may have prompted the alleged abuse, Mr Slade said the actions by staff were a clear breach of the Youth Justice Act.
“The Youth Justice Act in the Northern Territory makes it quite clear when restraints can be used, when handcuffs can be used, when isolation can be imposed, when force can be used,” Mr Slade said. “This has not been happening here. This has been way over the top. It has been abuse.”
Lawyers say proceedings likely to take years
Jenkings and Hyde are currently serving sentences at Darwin’s adult correctional facility.
Maurice and Blackburn anticipates the initial proceedings for the men could take about two years.
In the meantime the legal firm said it would need to try and contact every juvenile detainee who spent time in detention between 2006 and 2013.
The royal commission, called the day after the Four Corners episode went to air, has been extended by four months after concerns about a tight deadline were raised by Commissioner Mick Gooda.
Former juvenile detainee Dylan Voller, who featured heavily in the Four Corners program, has started a civil lawsuit against the NT Government.
Four other boys who went through the youth justice system, who cannot be named for legal reasons, have also started separate legal action.
Maurice Blackburn lawyers do not know what type of financial assistance their clients could receive.
The NT Government will need to respond to the latest civil proceedings in March.