New Zealand Law Society - Alternative courts profiled at 2021 IAWJ conference

Alternative courts profiled at 2021 IAWJ conference

Alternative courts profiled at 2021 IAWJ conference

A dedicated court for gender-based violence in Pakistan, alternative courts integrating mental health support with culturally appropriate justice in Australia, and Aotearoa New Zealand’s Te Kooti Rangatahi featured at the 15th International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) conference, held in Auckland on 7 to 9 May 2021.

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The IAWJ conference is held every second year to share experiences and ideas for best practice in areas such as promoting human rights and combating domestic violence, discrimination and gender bias, both within the judiciary and the world at large.

This year’s theme was “celebrating diversity” and while COVID-19 impacted the ability for international attendees to be present in person, interpretors lined the back wall along with a camera crew to live-stream the conference virtually around the world. The conference covered a range of interesting topics, and we’ll include more about it in our upcoming Winter edition of LawTalk.

The session on alternative courts included speakers from around the world talking about how they have approached alternative courts in their various jurisdictions. It was moderated by Hon. Judge John Walker, who has done a considerable amount of work in his career supporting alternative courts, including areas such as drug offending, family violence and youth courts in New Zealand.

Dialling in from Pakistan, Justice Ali Shah introduced how they took a gendered lens to establishing a dedicated gender-based violence court. The court includes screens and curtains between the witness and the accused, separate witness rooms as a protected environment for the victim, gender sensitive guidelines and practice notes, trained female support officers process victims and witnesses, and one trial at a time without other people in the courtroom to provide a sense of privacy for the victim. All of which to support women to access justice and have resulted in a 17% increase in conviction rates in two years.

To audible applause Justice Shah also presented his Supreme Court ruling that “The courts should also discontinue the use of painfully intrusive and inappropriate expressions, like ‘habituated to sex’, ‘woman of easy virtue’, ‘woman of loose moral character’, and ‘non-virgin’, for the alleged rape victims even if they find that the charge of rape is not proved against the accused. Such expressions are unconstitutional and illegal".

Judge Marlo Malagar then delivered harrowing statistics from the Phillipines illustrating the inequities of the female experience in incarceration. In the past decade female incarcerations have increased by 59% worldwide from 636,000 women in 2010 to 741,000 in 2021. However, often facilities are not designed for female needs.

Judge Malagar discussed a toolkit that was launched in June 2020 to help judges and prosecutors make incarceration decisions better suited to female needs. She explained how the differences between men and women justify a different approach, for example, women face an increased risk of mental health issues and may have  dependent children. Judge Malagar finished on a quote from Nelson Mandela “No one truly knows a nation until one experiences their jails”.

Magistrate Pauline Spencer explained the evolution of thinking about alternative courts in Victoria, Australia. Victoria started their journey with mainstream courts linking in with community support services to better meet the needs of their diverse population. They soon moved to a model whereby specialist courts were introduced, such as the Koori Court for First Nations Peoples, a Mental Impairment Court, a Drug Court, and a Specialist Family Violence Court.

Now Victoria is trying to integrate these innovative approaches across all courts, recognising that people may have needs that span across several of the specialist courts. For example, someone may have a need for mental health support as well as seeking culturally appropriate justice.

In New Zealand Judge Denise Clark talked about the work she has led with Te Kooti Rangatahi. These youth courts are held on marae for youth who have admitted guilt to the offences they are charged with. These courts were designed to reconnect youth with their heritage, language and their cultural identity in an attempt to achieve better outcomes for young Māori and address their disproportionate representation within a monolingual and monocultural court process. In 2018 24% of New Zealand people aged 14-16 were Māori, yet Māori made up 66% of youth court appearances and the trend was steadily increasing.

The Rangatahi Courts were so successful and received such high praise from people involved that the Pasifika Courts are following a similar model. Judge Clark ended the session with the call to action “Kua takoto te manuka aue tu ake rā. The challenge has been laid down, so rise up and accept the challenge”.

Judge Jane McMeeken discussed the Christchurch Youth Court and the work being done to consider the wellbeing and best interests of youth to improve both their prospects and potential contribution to society. Youth can leave the court without a criminal record, which allows them to get their life back on track.

In the final session, Judge Rosella Papalii talked about the use of Drug Courts in Samoa. As a small jurisdiction retributive justice was proving costly for Samoa. This required a shift in paradigm to focus on the root cause of the offending. They have introduced Community Justice Supervisors, who have mana in the community and now hold trials in the offender’s home. This also allows for a check up on the home environment to ensure it is fit.

In her closing remarks Judge Papalii signalled one of the key advantages of judges meeting across jurisdictions to share their experiences and successes is to learn from one another. “I would encourage other nations, especially here in the Pacific to establish similar Courts if they have not done so already. It works here and I’m sure it will also work other places” said Judge Papalii.