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MEDIA RELEASE: Queensland Government admits to unlawful detention of children in police watch houses

In a dramatic turn of events, the QLD Government’s Department of Youth Justice has admitted to the Supreme Court of Queensland that it has been detaining children on an unlawful basis in police watch houses across the state. 

The practice of detaining children in police watch houses, sometimes for excessive periods of time alongside serious adult offenders, has been criticised by law experts, human rights groups and children’s advocates. 

This admission occurred in response to an application for a writ of habeas corpus that was filed this week, seeking the immediate transfer of the children to a youth detention centre.  

The case was to test the lawfulness of the Queensland Government’s practice of holding remanded children in police watch houses for extended periods of time, rather than in youth detention centres.

The Queensland Government conceded the habeas corpus claim in relation to three children today on the basis that there was no order permitting detention in a police watch house. The Supreme Court ordered that these children be transferred to youth detention today. 

“The detention of children is extremely serious and must occur only according to law. The Department of Youth Justice has been overseeing the unlawful detention of these three children and potentially many other children over a substantial period of time. This is a serious breach of the human rights of children, and frankly quite shocking.” said Bridget BurtonDirector, Human Rights and Civil Law Practice at Caxton Legal Centre.

“If we must detain children at all, we need to do so in places where they have the chance to be rehabilitated, that means education programs, cultural support and especially contact with family, and access to disability, health and drug and alcohol treatment services. Our communities can’t be safe while the system is making children angrier and more disconnected. Inhumanely detaining children creates crime and makes us all less safe,” said Genevieve Sinclair, CEO of YETI.

“This is another failure in the youth detention systems. It’s time for this practice to be stopped immediately and for the QLD Government  to invest in long term solutions such as on-Country programs, rehabilitation and wrap around support for families that deal with the issues these children are facing, keep them out of the criminal justice system and our communities safe,” said Ms Sinclair. 

The case is brought by Caxton Legal Centre acting for Youth Empowered Towards Independence Incorporated (YETI Cairns), a non-government support agency for vulnerable young people living in Far North Queensland.

Grata Fund advocates for a strong and functioning democracy by supporting communities to bring circuit breaking litigation that holds the powerful to account. Grata has provided financial backing to ensure this important piece of public interest litigation gets to court.

A decision from the Supreme Court of Queensland will be published early next week.

For more info:  Belinda Lowe - Grata Fund - [email protected], 0428 805 696





YETI was established in 1995 and is a not-for-profit organisation. The agency facilitates a range of programs focusing on the needs of vulnerable young people, including: a day program; case management; therapeutic counselling; outreach; and research and evaluation.



Caxton Legal Centre is a community legal centre whose purpose is to promote and protect human rights in Queensland through access to justice.  Caxton provides accessible legal information so people know their rights and can prevent or respond to legal problems. Prioritising those who experience disadvantage, trauma and marginalization, Caxton provides free, high-quality legal assistance and social supports.  Caxton advocates for reform to unfair laws, policies and systems.



Grata Fund advocates for a strong and functioning democracy by using circuit breaking litigation to hold the powerful to account. Grata is Australia’s first specialist non-profit strategic litigation incubator and funder. Grata develops, funds, and builds sophisticated campaign architecture around high impact, strategic litigation brought by people and communities in Australia. We focus on communities, cases and campaigns that have the potential to break systemic gridlocks across human rights, climate action and democratic freedoms.

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