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NT Royal Commission Findings Will Be Unequivocal: Lawyer

John Lawrence says the system is still letting people down.

28/07/2017 5:05 PM AEST | Updated 28/07/2017 5:05 PM AEST
ABC Four Corners
Youths being isolated and strapped to mechanical chairs and six boys being tear-gassed at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin.

A former head of the Northern Territory Bar association says he expects a Royal Commission into youth detention to deliver 'unequivocal' and heavily critical findings about the territory's juvenile detention system.

John Lawrence, SC, said on Friday the youth detention system is continuing to fail children who fall into its hands.

The commission was launched a year ago by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after the ABC aired footage of then-16 year old Dylan Voller being tied to a restraint chair, strip searched and being forced to wear a spit-hood.

Lawrence said the commission will have little choice but to deliver strong findings after 11 months listening to children, staff and government officials give evidence in public and private hearings.

"I think the findings will be fairly unequivocal. It will be a very heavily critical finding," told the ABC on Friday.

The Royal Commission's interim report, released in March, had already criticised the system. In its interim report the commission said there was a strong perception the NT's detention system is failing young people, those who work in the system and the NT's people.

"And continues to fail, and probably still does," Lawrence said.

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said earlier this week youth justice "is and isn't" in a better place 12 months on from the start of the commission.

"A lot of good stuff is happening... but I think it'd be a mistake if I stood here and said things are better," he said.

The NT has the highest rate of youngsters behind bars, 94 percent of whom are Aboriginal.

NT Royal Commission
Statistics form the NT Royal Commission's interim report shows 94 percent of youth in detention in the territory are Aboriginal.

Lawrence criticised what he called the "age of acquiescence".

"Where people should probably should have known better have chosen to instead of opposing things which they know are wrong have acquiesced and ameliorated rather than opposed," he said.

He made a comparison to the Nuremberg war trial and to lawyers who had adjusted themselves and their practice to crimes against humanity.

"That very much sums up what has occurred in this jurisdiction over a period of years," he said.

"So to hear from not only from the kids, the jailers, the minister and the bureaucrats who knew all about these horrendous conditions -- which increased with the evidence, it was worse than 4 Corners showed.

This thing emerges in a time of moral collapse.John Lawrence, SC

"These people are normal people -- they are high level professional bureaucrats who know what is going on is shocking, they agreed it was inhumane, cruel, and yet they were able to end there day and go home, start their day and come in knowing that these children were in cells that were beyond the pale."

They were in dungeonsJohn Lawrence

In its interim report, the more than $50 million inquiry slammed the system for favouring punitive measures over rehabilitation.

The report said the evidence presented to the Commission revealed "a youth detention system that is likely to leave many children and young people more damaged than when they entered".

"We have heard that the detention facilities are not for accommodating children and young people, and not for the purpose of rehabilitation. They are also unsuitable workplaces for youth justice officers and other staff."

They are harsh, bleak and not in keeping with modern standards. They are punitive, not rehabilitative.NT Royal Commission Interim Report

Former Don Dale inmates have also launched three separate civil lawsuits against the NT government over similar alleged mistreatment.

Inside The NT's Youth Detention System

The commission will be accepting submissions until Monday, and it is expected to hand down its final report on September 30.

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