NT urged to settle youth detention claims

Tim Dornin
Ben Slade wants to take the NT juvenile detention class action to court or discuss a settlement

Lawyers leading a class action against the Northern Territory over the abuse of young people in juvenile detention have called on the government to settle the case.

Ben Slade, representing the two teenage boys who are the lead applicants, said the 20-month legal stoush and delays in bringing the matter to trial were denying his clients justice.

"What we want is to get into court so we can have the case heard or sit down with the Northern Territory government and talk about a resolution for these children's cases," Mr Slade said outside the Federal Court in Adelaide on Friday.

"For these kids who have suffered so, can't we sit down and talk about a regime that will make them better, compensate them for the wrong that was done to them so at least they will be able to move on."

The class action has been brought by two teenage boys who were held in the infamous Don Dale detention centre in Darwin.

While there it's alleged they were subjected to abusive treatment including being punched, grabbed by the throat and unnecessarily shackled or placed in isolation.

The action has been joined by more than 30 other youths but is also seeking compensation for all 1300 detained at various times over a period of 12 years.

In court on Friday, counsel for the NT government, David McClure asked for some sections of the claim to be struck out - telling the court that the Territory remained unclear exactly what it was being asked to defend and had "grave" doubts about some of the allegations being made.

"If they can't articulate it and we can't understand it, we can't be expected to prepare a case to meet it," he said.

Mr McClure also objected to a demand from the applicants for the Territory to hand over more material, including detention records of the two boys who were 15 and 16 at the time.

He said some of the requested material had already been supplied and, more broadly, the claim sought to impose an "intrusive, vast and expensive discovery exercise" on the government.

Mr Slade said the documents would be helpful, but would not make or break the case.

"The documents will be helpful to make the case out that we have specifically pleaded for each of the representative applicants," he told reporters.

"But it's not the end of the world, their cases are fairly clear, their position has been put and it would just increase the claims they've made in terms of the damages payout."

Justice Richard White has reserved his decision on both the strike out and disclosure applications to a date to be fixed.