New Zealand Law Society - Access to Justice: Te Tangi o te Manawanui

Access to Justice: Te Tangi o te Manawanui

This report was prepared by the Chief Victims Adviser to Government, Kim McGregor, and released by the Government in December.

Dr McGregor said the report resulted from nearly two years’ feedback from victims around the country. These included engagements through the Hāpaitia te Oranga Tangata, Safe and Effective Justice reform programme, at the Strengthening the Criminal Justice System for Victims Workshop in March 2019, and an online victims’ survey Dr McGregor ran in February 2019, which heard from 620 victims of crime.

“Many victims say their overall experiences in the justice system are negative, and some victims are recommending that others who are victimised shouldn’t report the crime because their treatment is so poor,” Dr McGregor said. “I believe this amounts to a growing crisis of confidence in our justice system from a victim’s perspective.”

The report makes four key recommendations on how the justice system can be improved for victims. These are for both immediate and more transformative change:

  • Improve procedural justice for victims by upholding victims’ rights, improving access to support and information, and ensuring their safety throughout the system. At a minimum, all government agencies should review their practices.
  • Develop an integrated, pro-active and tailored support system focused on restoring victims’ wellbeing.
  • Develop a variety of alternative justice processes by partnering with Māori, and restorative and therapeutic justice specialists.
  • Establish a Te Tiriti-based, independent mechanism to enforce victims’ rights and monitor the criminal justice system from a victim’s perspective.

The report says an independent body should be established that can:

  • Urgently focus on improving victim safety.
  • Focus on reducing barriers to reporting crime.
  • Help to properly implement and enforce the rights of victims and their whānau.
  • Enable victims easy access to co-ordinated, tailored and proactive support services whether they have reported to the Police or not.
  • Monitor the criminal justice system and develop a continuous system improvement feedback loop to provide impetus for ongoing system improvements.
  • Advocate for victims across the system, providing feedback on the system’s performance for victims.
  • Empower Māori and Tauiwi victims alike.
  • Receive and investigate complaints and resolve issues (including breaches of victims’ rights).

Civil litigation and access to justice

The Rules Committee has commenced a project which looks at potential areas of reform to the rules governing civil trial procedures. The objective is to improve access to justice by reducing the costs associated with bringing a civil matter to court. Committee chair, Justice Robert Dobson, describes the project as “the widest-reaching and arguably most important, review of the rules in a generation”.

The Rules Committee has made background research papers available at courtsofnz.govt.nz/about-the-judiciary/rules_committee/, and is seeking comment from members of the legal profession and other courts users. These are sought by 1 May 2020 and may be sent to rulescommittee@justice.govt.nz.

First steps for criminal justice reform outlined

Justice Minister Andrew Little announced a number of government commitments in response to the two criminal justice system reports, Turuki! Turuki! and Te Tangi o te Manawanui: Recommendations for Reform.

“The Government is open to reaching across the aisle on tackling our failed criminal justice system and building a new consensus on how we approach this issue,” he said.

“We need to change the course of our criminal justice system to ensure less offending, less reoffending, and fewer victims of crime who are better supported. Thirty years of locking more people up for longer has not changed re-offending rates nor made communities safer.”

Mr Little said as a first step to respond to the reports’ recommendations, the government has committed to:

  • Ensuring the environment in which justice is administered is safe and effective for victims, offenders, and all participants.
  • Comprehensive system change over time that treats victims with respect and dignity, treats offenders more effectively in order to reduce offending, and makes the system more responsive to community expectations of accountability and harm prevention.
  • Making the pilot Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment (AODT) courts in Auckland and Waitakere permanent immediately, and to immediately fund a new AODT court in Hamilton because of the impact these courts have on reducing offending. Within two years, AODT Court participants are 23% less likely to reoffend for any offence, 35% less likely to reoffend for a serious offence, and 25% less likely to be imprisoned because of their reoffending.
  • The rollout of other therapeutic and specialist courts over time.
  • Working with Māori on decision-making to improve outcomes across the justice system.

“Transforming our criminal justice system will take time. We need to both address immediate issues with the current system and also deliver a long-term plan for changing the system,” he said.

Turuki! Turuki! Transforming our Criminal Justice System

Released in December, the final report from Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora – the Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group followed its He Waka Roimata report in June 2019.

Turuki! Turuki! – which is the traditional call for the crew of a waka to work together and create forward motion with urgency – makes a number of key recommendations. These fall under three headings: Commit, Empower, Transform.

Commit

  • Establishment of a cross-party parliamentary accord for transformative justice.
  • Establishment of a Mana Ōrite (equal power) governance model under which Māori and Crown agencies share in justice sector decision-making.
  • Transfer power and resources to Māori communities so they can design and develop Māori-led responses to offending.
  • Make tikanga Māori and te ao Māori values central to the operation of the justice system.
  • Prioritise investment in community-led transformative justice.
  • Adoption of a common vision and common values by the Government, statutory purposes and governance for the whole justice sector and alignment of justice statutes accordingly.
  • Improvement of coordination and information sharing among government agencies and implementation of whole-of-government responsibility for justice sector outcomes.

Empower

  • Everyone harmed by criminal offending has access to an independent person who can guide and advocate for them during their contact with the justice system and other services for as long as needed. Better access to a wider range of therapeutic services and more financial support for victims, families and whānau. Strengthening of victims’ rights, including rights to have input into criminal justice decisions and rights to privacy.
  • Streamlining protection order and name suppression processes, changes to courtroom layout, and review of reparations.
  • Transfer resources and decision-­making powers to communities.
  • Together we address poverty and social deprivation, increase support for parents and families, and challenge attitudes and behaviour that support family violence.

Transform

  • Challenge racism within the justice system with more diverse recruitment and more effective training in the justice system, as well as school programmes, media campaigns, and law changes.
  • Improve access to culturally informed trauma recovery and mental health services, and adoption of trauma-informed approaches throughout the justice system, including in all training, policies and practices.
  • Strengthen regulation of alcohol, legalise and regulate personal use of cannabis, and consider that for all drugs. Treat personal drug use as a health issue with more funding towards prevention, education and treatment.
  • Significantly increase investment in rehabilitation programmes. Greatly expanded access to rehabilitation opportunities for all prisoners including those on remand and serving short sentences.
  • Gradually replace most prisons with community-based ‘habilitation centres’.
  • Strengthening ‘wrap-around’ reintegration services that meet basic needs and provide ongoing rehabilitation support for prisoners returning to the community.
  • Redesign of criminal investigation and court procedures to make them consistent with transformative justice values and principles. Ensuring everyone is treated fairly and equitably, with humanity, dignity, respect and compassion; those who cause harm are accountable; and restoration of mana to all is supported.
  • Interim reforms would include reviewing youth, specialist and therapeutic courts and applying learning across the court system, reviewing laws and guidelines for sentencing, the pre-trial period (whether in custody or on bail) and post-release reintegration (parole), to ensure consistency with our values and principles, strengthening and increasing access to alternative justice processes. “These changes will lead to a positive and fair justice system which prevents further harm wherever possible, restores mana where harm occurs, and ensures that all New Zealanders who come into contact with the system are affected positively.”

Legal profession delighted with new Tauranga courthouse news

The Waikato Bay of Plenty legal profession has welcomed news that Tauranga’s courthouse is to be replaced.

Late last year the Justice Minister Andrew Little announced that the Government would invest $100 million on a new courthouse which Mr Little said would be a model for future courthouse design. Mr Little said the courthouse would be designed in partnership with iwi, the local community, and the legal community. It would draw on te ao Māori values, and directly address victims’ safety needs.

“Victims routinely provide feedback about the alienating and distressing environment of the courthouse. It’s time to re-think the traditional courthouse design,” Mr Little said.

Tauranga barrister Bill Nabney has described the news as excellent as the current courtroom was inadequate, with trials with more than three defendants involved having to be moved elsewhere, such as Hamilton which is 105 km away.

He also said the current courthouse on McLean Street was mouldy and frequently prone to leaking roofs – late last year a trial had to be adjourned due to water coming in through a light fitting.

However, Mr Nabney was somewhat bemused about the time being allowed for feedback.

“We can’t understand why there has to be a two-year consultation period. My hope is that it will meaningfully include those who use the courthouse on a daily basis such as lawyers, the Crown Solicitor, Police, probation, mental health and drug addiction specialists, local people who use the court regularly, and court staff and Judges, rather than have the lead from Wellington with little meaningful input from those aforementioned users.”

Terry Singh, President of the Law Society’s Waikato Bay of Plenty branch, has also welcomed the development.

“I think it’s wonderful news for the Bay of Plenty region, and in a growth area like Tauranga, it is desperately needed.

“I’m hopeful that Hamilton, as another significant growth area – probably the fastest growing of any – in terms of criminal court business, is given the okay for a much-needed upgrade soon.”

International Women Judges conference in Auckland

The International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) is hosting its biennial conference in Auckland from 7-10 May 2020.

The theme of the conference is celebrating diversity and it provides an opportunity, rare in New Zealand, to listen to and meet judicial leaders from around the world and to experience a global perspective on issues such as human rights, the rule of law, discrimination, trafficking and family violence.

Keynote speakers include Baroness Brenda Hale (recently retired President of the UK Supreme Court), Helen Clark, Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland), Baroness Helen Kennedy QC, Justice Andromache Karakatsanis (Supreme Court of Canada), Justice Kudirat Kerekere-Ekun (Supreme Court of Nigeria), Professor Larissa Behrendt (University of Technology, Sydney) and Professor James Hathaway (University of Michigan).

The IAWJ says it warmly invites members of the legal profession to register. There are options to attend the full conference or just the weekend, with reduced fees for young lawyers, academics and students. Registration information is available at www.iawj2020auckland.com

Pakistan focus of 2020 Day of Endangered Lawyer

The 10th annual Day of the Endangered Lawyer, on 24 January, focused on Pakistan. The Day of the Endangered Lawyer Foundation is based in the Netherlands. It has developed a wide range of activities around the world on 24 January to raise awareness of lawyers who are being harassed, silenced, pressured, threatened, persecuted, tortured and murdered for their work as lawyers.

Information released by the organisers says that over the past several years lawyers in Pakistan have been subjected to acts of mass terrorism, murder, attempted murder, assaults, death threats, contempt proceedings, harassment and intimidation in the execution of their professional duties.

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