Our court system (we are told) is highly regarded overseas but Govt won’t let that stand in the way of a programme of transformation

Judges and court officials should brace for changes that enable them to contribute to the government’s wellbeing agenda.  If they didn’t know this already, they should know it now after Courts Minister Aupito William Sio delivered a speech to …

Well, the speech notes don’t tell us who was privileged to hear from the Minister.  But he discussed the government’s aim of shaping the criminal justice system “for the betterment of all citizens of Aotearoa-New Zealand” (we suppose this includes members of the criminal classes) “with a determined focus on those most affected, both historically and systematically”.

The speech was one of three new posts on the Beehive website.

The others were:

  • The allocation of $5.7 million to create better-quality experiences for disabled young people.  The investment, via Sport NZ’s Disability Plan, will result in $2.1 million provided to 15 Parafeds/D-Sport and seven National Disability Sport Organisations (NDSOs) over the next three years and $3.6 million for two new contestable disability funds.
  • A government acknowledgement of Western Australia’s decision to end its lockdown, with limited restrictions still in place.

In his speech Sio said the government has heard from New Zealanders – Māori and Pasifika leaders in particular – about their desire to transform the justice system to achieve better outcomes. It’s of note that some people in particular are listened to.

The Minister went on:

“Our work to transform the criminal justice system is consistent with wellbeing work being undertaken by the Government – their commitment is to put the wellbeing of current and future generations of New Zealanders at the heart of everything we do.

“Wellbeing means giving people the capabilities to live lives of purpose, balance and meaning. A wellbeing approach aims to improve New Zealanders’ living standards.”

Good luck with that, when a judge has to jail violent offenders with a contempt for fellow citizens.

Sio said one of his priorities, as Minister for Courts,

“ … is to maintain the integrity of the courts and tribunals – not just as places to seek solutions and recompense, but to ensure we are upholding the important values of our nation – and that we protect the mana of people.

“The justice system contributes to wellbeing by helping to keep people safe, protecting their rights, helping to fairly resolve conflict, and promoting pro-social norms.”

Indeed – and it keeps people safe by ensuring that violent criminals are locked away securely, preferably for a long time.

Sio said that – internationally – our system is highly regarded in relation to procedural justice and integrity.

Great.  But don’t get too cheered because things are going to be changed regardless.

Sio proceeded to say

” …  we have heard for decades that it is not serving the needs of many New Zealanders very well, and is in fact causing greater harm in some instances – Māori are particularly negatively impacted, and victims also report their needs are frequently not met.”

The Government is committed to improving that situation without compromising the justice system’s clear strengths.

Among the initiatives, Sio mentiponed Te Ao Mārama, a new model for the District Court announced in November last year by Chief District Court Judge, Heemi Taumaunu.

One feature (as with so many government initiatives nowadays) is to give it a name that obfuscates its purpose. Another is to embrace the Maori world view.

Te Ao Mārama means ‘the world of light’, or moving from the dark to the enlightened world, and stems from a Te Ao Māori worldview.

The Te Ao Mārama vision is that the District Court will strive to become an increasingly enlightened court where all people may seek justice, regardless of their means or abilities, their ethnicity, language or culture, and who they are or where they are from – reflecting the needs of a multi-cultural Aotearoa.

The new model will take the knowledge, skills and approaches learned from the existing specialist courts, so that the best practice elements are incorporated throughout the mainstream District Court.

These elements include infusing tikanga and te reo Māori, using plain language in the court, improving the information available to Judges about people’s backgrounds and needs, and improving wraparound support.

The model will be implemented in a spirit of partnership with iwi and local communities, with support from the Ministry of Justice and cross-sector agencies. 

Incremental implementation is proposed to begin this year, beginning with the establishment of three initiatives in the Hamilton District Court that fall within the broader Te Ao Mārama framework:

  • In mid-June the government will launch the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment (AODT) Court in the Criminal Court, and Alcohol and other Drug Treament pathway in the Family Court for Care and Protection cases.
  • The judiciary and the Ministry aim to establish the Young Adult List for people aged 18-25 in the Criminal Court.

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