[url=https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-03/ ... s/12315170]Tear-gassing of teens in Don Dale Youth Detention Centre was unlawful, High Court rules
The High Court has found the tear-gassing of four teenagers in Darwin's Don Dale Youth Detention Centre was unlawful.
The four teenagers were tear-gassed while in NT youth detention in 2014
The High Court found the teenagers were entitled to damages
It found exemptions allowing for the use of tear gas in adult prisons did not apply in the youth detention centre
Lawyers for the teenagers had appealed against lower-court findings that adult prison officers were authorised to use the gas during a night of unrest in August 2014.
In a majority ruling, the High Court found exemptions allowing the guards' use of the gas, which is classified as a prohibited weapon, did not apply in the youth detention centre.
The decision opens the way for the teenagers to claim damages for battery.
The group had previously been awarded limited damages for some aspects of their treatment on the night, including the use of spit-hoods and leg shackles.
But Northern Territory Supreme Court Judge Judith Kelly ruled that the tear-gassing was reasonable and necessary.
The High Court today sent the matter back to the Northern Territory Supreme Court for another judge to assess what damages should be awarded.
It has also ordered that the Northern Territory cover the legal costs of the detainees, who were represented by high-profile barrister Bret Walker SC.
The four detainees, who were aged between 15 and 17 at the time of the incident, were locked in their cells when tear gas was sprayed into a surrounding enclosed area to subdue another detainee who had escaped his cell.
The tear gas was sprayed by prison guards called in from the nearby adult jail to respond to the disturbance.
High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel and Justice Patrick Keane wrote that was not allowed under the laws of the Northern Territory.
"It is no part of a prison officer's function to use a weapon in a youth detention centre," they wrote.
Footage of the tear-gassing was shown in a Four Corners expose that sparked a royal commission into the Northern Territory's youth justice system.
In 2017 the royal commission's report recommended that the use of tear gas in youth prisons be banned.
A total of six teenagers were tear-gassed in the 2014 incident, but only four were involved in this legal proceeding.
While it's a good precedent, I'm not jumping for joy. We get cases like this regularly now, and very little actually changes despite repeated court rulings that something was unlawful or brutality, and no meaningful reform occurs. Note also that the finding is that the tear gas should not have been deployed by adult prisoner guards, not that it should never have been deployed at all and that the circumstances that lead to the unrest deserve censure and sanction. This is the way high court precedents are structured to limit potential reform impacts - they have the discretion to take a wide or a narrow focus.
Of course, I could be mistaken and it could just be that the reporting is ignoring a wider focus. I'll have to read the judgment when I get a chance to be sure.