New Zealand Law Society - Bill seeking to improve outcomes for children and young people needs further work

Bill seeking to improve outcomes for children and young people needs further work

The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa appeared before the Social Services and Community select committee last week to present its submission on the Oversight of Oranga Tamariki System and Children and Young People’s Commission Bill. Elana Geddis and Johan Niemand addressed the select committee on behalf of the Law Society. 

The Bill seeks to establish a new entity to monitor the operation and policies of Oranga Tamariki. The Law Society’s submission stressed that it was important for the new Monitor to be independent and have well-defined powers and functions.

“The Bill should be amended to exclude the application of the Public Service Act 2020,” says Elana Geddis. “This will ensure the Minister cannot use the powers under that Act to alter the functions, duties and powers of the proposed new Monitor in the future.”

The Bill also seeks to strengthen the complaints oversight function performed by the Ombudsman to ensure investigations improve outcomes for children and young people and give practical effect to te Tiriti o Waitangi.

“The Ombudsman’s complaints process is slow, which means it is far from an effective remedy,” says Ms Geddis. “We would like to see the Bill amended to require the Ombudsman to have a code of ethics and a publicly available complaints and investigation process.”

The Law Society also addressed the clauses in the Bill which require the Monitor to prepare a ‘State of the Oranga Tamariki System’ report. The Bill currently requires these reports to be prepared at least every three years and provides for minimum requirements to be prescribed in regulations.

“This is problematic,” says Johan Niemand. “If regulations are not enacted, there will be no requirements for the contents of these reports. We believe the Act should specify some ‘bare minimum’ requirements including Oranga Tamariki’s compliance with the legislation, and whether the rights of children and young persons are being upheld and promoted.”

The Bill also requires a child’s caregiver to facilitate the Monitor’s access to the child or young person. The Law Society expressed concerns about how a child may be interviewed by the Monitor when they are given access, and what protections and support will be provided to that child.

“The Act should prescribe some ‘minimum obligations’ which apply when the Monitor obtains information directly from a child or young person,” says Mr Niemand. “At the very least, the Bill should more clearly specify that the code of ethics must address the support mechanisms that will be provided where the Monitor directly engages with a child or young person.”

Elana Geddis is a member of the Law Society’s Public and Administrative Law Committee. Johan Niemand is a member of the Law Society’s Family Law Section.

More information