New Zealand Law Society - Tribunal says Crown in breach of Treaty obligations

Tribunal says Crown in breach of Treaty obligations

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The Waitangi Tribunal has released a report, Tū Mai te Rangi!, which says the Crown is in breach of its Treaty obligations by failing to prioritise the reduction of the high rate of Māori reoffending relative to non-Māori.

The report has been released following a claim filed by retired probation officer Tom Hemopo. The Tribunal, consisting of Judge Patrick Savage, Bill Wilson QC, Tania Simpson, and Professor Derek Lardelli, heard the claim under urgency in Wellington in July 2016.

The Tribunal says the undisputed disparity between Māori and non-Māori reoffending rates is longstanding and substantial. It says high Māori reoffending rates contribute to the disproportionate imprisonment of Māori, who currently make up half of New Zealand's prisoners, despite being only 15% of the national population.

It says for the Crown to be acting consistently with its Treaty obligations in this context, it must be giving urgent priority to addressing disproportionate Māori reoffending rates in clear and convincing ways.

The Tribunal says that while the Justice sector announced in February 2017 a broad target to reduce Māori reoffending, the department has no specific plan or strategy to reduce Māori reoffending rates, no specific target to reduce Māori reoffending rates, and no specific budget to meet this end.

It concludes that the Crown is not prioritising the reduction of the rate of Māori reoffending and is in breach of its Treaty obligations to protect Māori interests and to treat Māori equitably.

However, the Tribunal has found that the Crown has not breached its partnership obligations, given that the Department of Corrections is making good faith attempts to engage with iwi and hapū.

Corrections response

Department of Corrections Chief Executive Ray Smith has responded to the report, saying he welcomes its release and acknowledges that the rate of Māori reoffending is unacceptable and presents an extremely serious issue for New Zealand.

"This is not something we have shied away from," he says.

"We have come a long way in tackling what is a complex issue, and I know that all Corrections staff, in conjunction with our justice sector colleagues, are determined to continue their focus on reducing all reoffending and to make our communities safer."