NT Government Withdraws $160,000 Law Suit Against Don Dale Teens

It comes as indigenous groups slam the Royal Commission into juvenile detention as "fundamentally flawed".

29/07/2016 9:21 AM AEST | Updated 29/07/2016 4:51 PM AEST
Youths being isolated and strapped to mechanical chairs and six boys being tear-gassed at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin. Photo: ABC Four Corners

The Northern Territory Government has backed away from counter suing two teenage boys who were tear-gassed at a juvenile facility.

The NT Government was claiming $160,000 in damages from the teens over an escape attempt, where the pair allegedly rammed a roller door in the prison in a stolen car.

The ABC reported on Friday six boys from Don Dale had lodged a complaint seeking damages against the NT Government for their treatment at the hands of detention guards. Two of the six boys, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were being counter-sued by Adam Giles' Government.

But just hours after news of the suit went public, the Chief Minister Adam Giles announced his government was dropping the suit but would continue to defend against the teens complaint.

Dylan Voller, one of the six boys suing the Government, was seen in a Four Corners report that aired on Monday being hooded and strapped to a restraint chair. Voller on Friday asked NT Chief Minister Giles for an apology over his treatment. Voller is serving jail time for robbery offences and recklessly endangering serious harm and is due for release in October 2017.

Four Corners
Dylan Voller was strapped to a restraint chair for hours, footage shown by the ABC's Four Corner's revealed on Monday

The NT Government had lodged its counter-suit for damages on July 4, after an earlier escape attempt during which the two boys stole a car and used it to ram a roller-door.

On Thursday Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appointed a former NT Supreme Court Justice to head the inquiry and sought the input of the NT Government, a decision that has angered some Territorians who argue he is associated with a flawed system.

Deputy chair of the Aboriginal Medical Services alliance NT, Olga Havnen, told the ABC she did not see how Aboriginal people in the NT could have faith in the commission after the appointment of former NT Supreme Court Justice Brian Ross Martin.

"The process so far I think is absolutely fundamentally flawed," she said.

"The fact that we as the key organisations across the Northern Territory have sought out, actively sought out, engagement with Government to no avail, we've also made some strong recommendations about our preference that the Royal Commission needed to be seen to be independent and impartial, that it had to be headed by somebody that was eminently qualified and an expert in the field but someone that had no relationship or prior connection to the Northern Territory.

"It's just simply unacceptable. Quite frankly, I don't know how any of us as Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory can have any confidence in this process or Royal Commission."

Attorney-General George Brandis on Friday defended the Federal Government's handling of the Commission, and rejected the suggestion Martin's previous role should exclude him from overseeing the inquiry.

Brandis said he had taken into account the views of "quite a number" of indigenous groups, as well as consulting with indigenous leaders Warren Mundine and Mick Gooda.

He cited Martin's previous roles in three Australian jurisdictions, as chief just offence the Northern Territory, as a judge of the Supreme Court of SA and as an acting judge of the Supreme Court of WA.

"Any suggestion that he is not independent, any suggestion that she not suitable for a task of this kind is very foolish," he said.

Giles reportedly told ABC television on Thursday his Government would implement all reasonable recommendations from the Commission.

The Giles Government has been under sustained criticism since the Four Corners footage showing teenage boys being gagged, stripped naked and strapped, hooded, to restraint chairs at the Don Dale Child Detention Facility became public.

Attorney-General John Elferink -- who was stripped of his Corrections portfolio by Giles -- has reportedly fled to South Australia and is expected to return to the NT on Friday.

The Chief Minister on Tuesday expressed his "horror" at the images, but on Thursday admitted he had received a report on the gassings in September last year, a report that detailed the use of spit hoods and restraint chairs, the lack of drinking water, the long periods of solitary confinement and a lack of training for guards on when to use force.

"It came into Cabinet and we had a discussion about it," he told Sky News.

"One of the things we did almost immediately was close the old Don Dale facility."

He told host David Speers that his "horror" on Monday night was from seeing excessive force used on the children in detention.

Earlier in the week WA Premier Colin Barnett called for the Territory Government -- which faces an election next month -- to be stripped of its responsibilities for juvenile justice and called on the Turnbull government to intervene.

"I don't believe the Northern Territory Government is competent to be running its youth justice system and I think there is a strong case for the Federal Government, with the support of other states, to take over the management of that until it is in good and proper shape," Barnett is reported to have said.

The NT Chief Minister Adam Giles has come under sustained pressure since the Four Corner's 'Torture' footage became public.

Former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie called for the Prime Minister to put the issue of indigenous detention on the Council Of Australian Governments (COAG) agenda.

"This response shouldn't just be a royal commission, it should be a broader response, a broader discussion and a broader strategy.

Former Federal Opposition leader John Hewson said the federal government should be commended for acting quickly and decisively, but he criticised the course they chose.

"I understand the nation has been genuinely shocked by what they saw, and I think they were even more shocked that it's been going on as long as it has despite a couple of independent inquires, and being covered up over that process," he said.

"The government deserves credit for acting quickly and decisively, although they have taken a medium course.

"They could have taken responsibility for the juvenile justice system in the NT, maybe that's where it will end up as a result of the Royal Commission recommendations."

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