Royal Commission into the Child Protection and Youth Detention Systems of the Northern Territory

Media release
28 Jul 2016
Prime Minister, Attorney-General

The Governor-General has issued Letters Patent to establish a Royal Commission into the Child Protection and Youth Detention Systems of the Government of the Northern Territory, and appoint the Hon Brian Ross Martin AO QC as Royal Commissioner. 

This Royal Commission will be conducted jointly with the Northern Territory Government which will issue an appointment in identical terms under its Inquiries Act.

The Royal Commission is independent from government and is responsible for determining its own processes. It can investigate any matter that falls within its Terms of Reference.

The Royal Commission has been established in a targeted and focused way to enable the swift inquiry into the treatment of children and young persons detained in youth detention facilities administered by the Government of the Northern Territory, in particular the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.   The Royal Commission is due to report by 31 March 2017.

The Royal Commission will focus on the specific systemic problems identified within the Northern Territory, how those problems arose, the failure to identify and correct them, and appropriate reforms.  

Specifically, the Royal Commission has been asked to examine:

  • failings in the child protection and youth detention systems of the Government of the Northern Territory;
  • the effectiveness of any oversight mechanisms and safeguards to ensure the treatment of detainees was appropriate;
  • cultural and management issues that may exist within the Northern Territory youth detention system;
  • whether the treatment of detainees breached laws or the detainees’ human rights; and
  • whether more should have been done by the Government of the Northern Territory to take appropriate measures to prevent the reoccurrence of inappropriate treatment.

The Royal Commission will also make recommendations about legal, cultural, administrative and management reforms to prevent inappropriate treatment of children and young persons in detention, and what improvements can be made to the child protection system.  

Many of the recommendations and findings of this Royal Commission are expected to be of use to other jurisdictions when they are considering how their juvenile detention systems can be improved. 

The Hon Brian Ross Martin AO QC is eminently qualified to undertake this important role and will bring to the Royal Commission a wealth of experience.

Justice Martin has a deep understanding of the legal and justice systems of the Northern Territory, and deep familiarity with issues arising from the engagement of indigenous people with criminal justice and penal systems.

In 1991, Justice Martin was Senior Counsel assisting the Royal Commission into the Commercial Activities of Government and Other Matters, known as WA Inc. Justice Martin was appointed the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions in 1997. He served in that role until he was made a judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia from 1999.

In 2004, Justice Martin was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory – a role he served until 2010. He was an acting Judge of the Supreme Court of Western Australia in 2012.

The Government thanks the many individuals and organisations, including the Opposition, who have provided constructive input into the development of the Terms of Reference.

The Letters Patent are attached.