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New Zealand justice system broken, says Justice Minister

24 January 2019

It is fair to say that New Zealand's justice system is broken, Justice Minister Andrew Little has told the United Nations Human Rights Council.

In a speech delivered in Geneva on 21 January for the third Universal Periodic Review of New Zealand's human rights record, Mr Little said New Zealand has one of the highest incarceration rates per capita in the world, and this has risen in recent years.

"Māori are disproportionately represented at every stage of our criminal justice system, both as offenders and victims.  We are struggling with prison capacity and prisoner violence.  Ninety percent of prisoners have a lifetime diagnosis of mental health or substance use disorder."

Photo of Andrew Little with beard
Andrew Little. 

He said the government is deeply concerned about the effects of this on communities, family and society.

"We have promised New Zealanders that we will effect transformational change of the justice system.  To achieve this we have initiated a programme called Hāpaitia te Oranga Tangata (safe and effective justice).  Its goals include reducing offending and thereby the prison population by 30% within the next 15 years.

"Because we want any programme of change to be sustainable and inclusive, we are working with Māori and communities along the way.  We held a Criminal Justice Summit last year, in which we heard from Māori, victims, practitioners, former criminals and justice representatives who have first-hand experience of how to improve the system.  The key message that emerged was the importance of partnering with Māori to ensure solutions work for Māori."

Mr Little said workshops and a victims' conference would follow in 2019, and an expert advisory group has been established. This is working with justice interest groups and experts across New Zealand.

"This engagement will inform decisions on substantive options for change," he said.  

"In the meantime, we are focusing on preventative measures like the improvements in mental health services.  For those already in the justice system, we are looking at ways to address re-offending, particularly of Māori, and to improve rehabilitation and reintegration programmes.

"We are committed to confronting the challenges posed by our justice system with a hope and belief that we can, and should, do better for New Zealanders now, and for future generations."

The review is considering New Zealand's human rights records over the last five years. New Zealand is one of 14 states being reviewed by the Univeral Periodic Review Working Group. The three country representatives serving as rapporteurs for the review of New Zealand are Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Slovakia.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019