Martin quits NT royal commission

By Elise Scott
1 / 2

Royal commissioner Martin quits NT inquiry

Brian Ross Martin will no longer head a royal commission into youth detention in the NT.

Former Northern Territory chief justice Brian Ross Martin has quit the royal commission investigating abuse in youth detention before it started because of a perceived conflict of interest.

Justice Martin on Monday requested he be removed from the inquiry, saying it was clear that, "rightly or wrongly", he did not have the full confidence of sections of the indigenous community.

The commission's effectiveness would likely be compromised from the beginning, he said.

"I am not prepared to proceed in the face of this risk," he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

Concerns about Justice Martin's impartiality surfaced over his potential dealings with some of the children abused in footage aired on the ABC, during his time as chief justice of the NT.

After his appointment last Thursday it had also been revealed Justice Martin's daughter worked as an adviser to former NT attorney-general Delia Lawrie during the period the commission would investigate.

Media scrutiny of his daughter is one of the reasons the former judge stepped down.

"I am not prepared to allow the unwarranted intrusion into the life of my daughter to continue," he said.

The federal government has been criticised for not consulting widely with indigenous leaders and groups, with some commentators claiming the terms of reference and commissioner decision had been rushed.

But Justice Martin insisted his resignation implied no criticism of the government, nor any doubt of his own capacity to be independent and competent in the role.

"No one could have reasonably anticipated the matters that have been raised with respect to me personally," he said.

Asked if further consultation with indigenous groups would have discovered some of the perceived conflicts, Justice Martin replied, "That is history."

Given the alleged conflict, Justice Martin admitted there was "a lot to be said" for appointing someone outside the NT as his successor.

There was also merit for the involvement of indigenous Australians, he said, but that didn't mean a non-indigenous person couldn't head the inquiry successfully.

Labor has called for two indigenous co-commissioners to be appointed.

At least 95 per cent of children in NT prisons are indigenous.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the royal commission hours after seeing footage of young boys being stripped naked, tear-gassed and held in solitary confinement.

One boy was shackled to a "mechanical device" chair before being left alone for two hours while another was tackled, lifted and hurled across a room.

The commission is due to report on March 31, but Justice Martin would be surprised if it didn't take longer.