• The 17-year-old spoke via a pre-recorded interview from the Don Dale detention centre. (ABC)Source: ABC
Former detainees of Northern Territory youth detention centres hope a historic settlement will help drive improvements in the system they say has left them damaged.
Karen Michelmore

28 Jul 2021 - 12:09 PM  UPDATED 28 Jul 2021 - 3:25 PM

Former detainees who were mistreated in Northern Territory youth detention facilities have secured a $35 million class action settlement.

Maurice Blackburn revealed the settlement figure after the Federal Court ruled against a NT Government bid to keep it supressed.

The settlement for up to 1200 former detainees comes five years after the final report of the Royal Commission into youth detention in the NT revealed systemic and shocking failures, including “regular, repeated and distressing mistreatment” of young people.

It comes two months after controversial new NT youth bail reforms, which critics have said would only lead to more young Indigenous children behind bars.

Court to approve settlement in November

Maurice Blackburn Principal lawyer Ben Slade welcomed the settlement agreement, which will be formally approved in a Federal Court hearing in Darwin in November.

“No amount of money will undo the ongoing harm caused by these abuses, but it is an important acknowledgement of the pain caused to hundreds of young people,” Mr Slade said in a statement.

“While in detention, these young people were subjected to appalling treatment that included excessive force, handcuffing, strip searching and isolation in cells.

“These young people may have broken the law, but they did not deserve to be broken by the law.”

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System is still broken, campaigners say

The settlement was cautiously welcomed, but Indigenous rights' campaigners said the system still had significant problems.

 “I think the government has got a lot more work to do,” Indigenous rights campaigner Thomas Mayor said.

 “Any compensation for these families is important for them to move on. But certainly the moving on is only one part – the government has to now genuinely reform the justice system.”

 “There is just so much to do.”

The NT government has previously apologised for the way young people were treated in youth detention, but does not agree its officers acted illegally.

Other claimants urged to come forward

The class action is led by applicants Aaron Hyde and Dylan Jenkings, who were assaulted and abused by youth justice officers while in detention.

Registrations are open for young people who were mistreated while in a NT youth detention facility between August 2006 and 2017 to come forward and seek compensation.

The amount paid to each person will vary depending on how long they were in detention, what happened to them, and how many people register for compensation, Maurice Blackburn said.

The brothers and sisters who are no longer with us are not forgotten and we send them our love.

One of the lead applicants Aaron Hyde said he hoped the settlement would lead to change to create a better system.

“Only the people who have walked in my shoes know what we’ve been through,” he said in a statement.

“Our shoes bear those scars and marks. The brothers and sisters who are no longer with us are not forgotten and we send them our love.”

Numbers getting worse: Eddie Cubillo

Eddie Cubillo worked as an engagement officer on the Royal Commission and says the Northern Territory has gone backwards since then.

 “A wrong has been corrected,” Mr Cubillo said of the settlement.

 “We had the Royal Commission and the Northern Territory government has discarded that with their recent legislation.

 “They haven’t learned from the mistakes that they have previously made.”

 He said after the Royal Commission the NT Chief Minister had apologised to the children the territory had failed, but just five years later it had  “gone back to being tough on crime and locking kids up”.

 “If you look at the numbers in detention and the child removal number, they are still the same if not worse,” Mr Cubillo said.

Maurice Blackburn’s Mr Slade said the Royal Commission made it clear the youth detention system was damaging children and young people, rather than rehabilitating them.

“Our clients hope the Royal Commission and this hard-fought class action will lead to changes in the youth detention system that mean other young people will not suffer as they did,” he said.

Largest class action settlement in NT history

The NT Government confirmed it was the largest class action settlement it had ever agreed to.

Families Minister Kate Worden said it had been a long-running legal matter, but added the government had not made any admissions about its actions in the settlement.

“We acknowledge the stain this historical event has had on the Northern Territory,” Minister Worden told reporters.

Minister Worden said the government had made significant reforms since the Royal Commission to ensure young people were safer and better supported.

“The whole purpose of settling this matter or moving to settlement in November is to put this to bed,” she said.

“This is a historical matter, going back as far as 2006. We have a very, very reformed system since that time, so this is about putting those historical factors that led to a Royal Commission to bed.”

Of the 218 recommendations of the Royal Commission, the government had so far fully implemented 158, she said. Another 57 recommendations were in the process of being implemented, and a further three yet to begin.

“We have worked extensively since 2016 to completely reform this system,” Minister Worden said.

“That’s not to say we won’t have young people coming into the system. But our focus is to have early intervention working with families and making sure we have got a system that supports young people to turn their lives around.”

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