Children, most of them Aboriginal, in Alice Springs are being forced to stay for long periods in police custody before seeing a magistrate in adult courts because there is no children's court in the region.
"The fact that there is no youth justice court in Alice Springs is outrageous,” Cheryl Axleby, co-chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) told BuzzFeed News.
"In all actions concerning children, including those in a court of law, the best interests of the child must be paramount", Axleby said.
This week two Aboriginal children, aged 15 and 16, were remanded in custody in Alice Springs on Monday and will not see a magistrate in the adult court until Friday.
NATSILS, the peak national body representing Indigenous legal services, along with representatives from those legal services met on Wednesday in Alice Springs to demand that the newly elected Northern Territory Labor government implement a dedicated youth court.
Alice Springs is the second largest population centre in the NT after Darwin, where there is a youth court.
“A holistic, resourced, and coordinated Youth Justice Court should be implemented in the Alice Springs as part of a system which aims at reducing young people’s involvement in the criminal justice system,” Axleby said.
They say keeping children in custody for long periods is a breach of the NT Youth Justice Act, which requires children to come before the court at the "earliest opportunity".
“If Central Australia and the regional areas had a separate youth justice court, perhaps we wouldn’t see children held in circumstances that would amount to a breach of the Youth Justice Act”.
A spokesperson for the NT Attorney General told BuzzFeed News the new NT government has no plans to build a youth court in Alice Springs.
“Whilst at this stage the department of the attorney-general and justice does not plan to construct a separate Youth Justice Court at Alice Springs there are plans to improve the way in which youth are managed in the current building when the Supreme Court relocates to its new building in early 2017," the spokesperson said.
"There will be a ground level foyer upgrade which will commence immediately upon the Supreme Court moving out. The main focus of that upgrade will be to improve facilities for support services and create an additional courtroom for youth matters."
The territory's youth justice system has been under heavy scrutiny this year after images of young Aboriginal children being brutalised by juvenile detention workers shocked the nation and the world.
The images of kids being teargassed, stripped naked and restrained in "spit-hoods" and a mechanical chair prompted prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to create royal commission into youth detention in the NT.
Aboriginal young people make up almost 96% of the juvenile detention population in the NT despite only comprising 44% of the population aged between 10 and 17.
Allan Clarke is an Indigenous Affairs Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Allan Clarke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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