Youth detention inquiries told that current laws breach human rights

The Human Rights Law Centre has told the Northern Territory Royal Commission and the Queensland youth justice review that current youth justice laws breach children’s human rights and must be changed.

The HRLC’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Ruth Barson, said that harmful practices like solitary confinement and the routine use of strip searches have no place in youth detention facilities.

“Putting children in solitary confinement risks causing irreparable psychological harm and is strictly prohibited under international law. There is no place for this archaic practice in Australia and it should be abolished immediately,” said Ms Barson.

The HRLC’s submissions highlight the failure of current laws and policies to protect the rights, dignity and wellbeing of young people in detention.

“Strip searching and the use of restraints must be limited to the most exceptional circumstances, rather than being used on a routine basis. These practices leave children particularly vulnerable to abuse,” said Ms Barson.

Both the Royal Commission and the Queensland inquiry were launched following harrowing revelations about the mistreatment of children in detention.

The HRLC’s submissions also call for independent oversight of youth justice facilities and the raising of the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years.

“Independent oversight is critical to preventing abuse and holding authorities to account. The federal government should ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture to pave the way for all states and territories to put in place measures to prevent mistreatment,’ said Ms Barson.

“Australia is out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to the age of criminal responsibility. Both science and human rights law tell us that children aged ten years are too immature to be held criminally responsible and that twelve should be the minimum age,” said Ms Barson

Ms Barson said that both the Northern Territory and Queensland governments should commit to the implementation of recommendations.

“The findings and recommendations of these inquiries should not be put on a shelf to gather dust. If we’re to see real change, it’s imperative that the Northern Territory and Queensland governments commit to meaningful implementation,” said Ms Barson.

The submission to the Northern Territory Royal Commission is available here, and the submission to the Queensland inquiry is available here.

For further comments or queries please contact:

Ruth Barson, Director of Legal Advocacy, Human Rights Law Centre, 0417 773 037

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519