A group of juvenile offenders will spend Christmas in Victoria’s maximum security adult jail despite a court ruling that their transfer to Barwon Prison was illegal.
The Victorian government says it will appeal the Supreme Court judgement that it acted unlawfully by failing to give proper consideration to the teenagers’ human rights. Justice Greg Garde today initially ordered the 15 teenagers be moved to a youth facility by tomorrow afternoon but later changed his mind after the government argued it had nowhere else to house them. A stay has been placed on their transfer out of Barwon Prison until December 28.
The teens were among up to 40 youths who were transferred to the prison’s Grevillea unit in November after riots damaged the Parkville and Malmsbury youth detention facilities. At the time Youth Affairs Minister Jenny Mikakos said the transfer was due to the teens’ “disgraceful” behaviour. At trial government lawyers told Justice Garde the transfer was due to capacity issues at the damaged detention centres.
The minister was standing by her decision to transfer the group to Barwon, suggesting the Supreme Court got it wrong.
“We made a tough call to send these young offenders to the Grevillea unit at Barwon Prison and we will defend that decision,” she said.
“The government is extremely disappointed by today’s outcome.”
The government’s appeal will be heard next Wednesday.
In today’s judgement, Justice Garde found the Grevillea unit had not been lawfully established as a youth remand centre under the relevant legislation. He said the government had transferred the youths in November for “an improper and extraneous purpose” of emergency accommodation.
In late November the Andrews government agreed to move indigenous teens out of Barwon after a legal challenge was launched by the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. Lawyers for the remaining non-indigenous youths then challenged their transfer on the basis it was unlawful and breached their human rights.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy says Ms Mikakos should now lose her job. The Greens argue Labor must abandon its “race the bottom” on law and order issues in Victoria.
“That the government postured over their breach of the human rights of children in the youth justice system is sickening,” Greens MP Nina Springle said in a statement.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance says the teens held in Barwon “may now have an entitlement for a claim for false imprisonment”.