New Zealand Law Society - Update on Te Ao Mārama

Update on Te Ao Mārama

Update on Te Ao Mārama
Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu

Earlier this week the Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu wrote to the legal profession with an update on the Te Ao Mārama model. A copy of the contents of that letter is published below.

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As I write to you today Auckland is at COVID Alert Level 3 and the rest of the country is at COVID Alert Level 2. Although our courts are focussed on transitioning to those increased alert levels, I thought you and your members may appreciate an update on progress in implementing the Te Ao Mārama model for the District Court in Hamilton from mid-2021.

Over the past four decades the District Court has been the target of consistent calls for transformative change to the justice system. Those calls for change have consistently concentrated on the disproportionate number of Māori in the justice system and the perception that people have left court feeling that they had not been heard or understood and that they had been treated unfairly.

The phrase “Te Ao Mārama” literally means “the world of light” or “the enlightened world”. In the District Court, Te Ao Mārama means a more enlightened delivery of justice in modern-day Aotearoa New Zealand with a focus on restoration, rehabilitation and welcoming the strength of local iwi and the local community into the court.

The Te Ao Mārama model for the District Court will incorporate in the mainstream District Court best practice lessons already demonstrated in our specialist courts, including solution-focused judging, further incorporation of tikanga and te reo Māori, and enhanced community engagement. This model will develop over time across the District Court as it is rolled out around Aotearoa. You may recall I set out in some detail a shared vision for the District Court as expressed through the Te Ao Mārama model while delivering the annual Norris Ward McKinnon Lecture in Hamilton three months ago.

The details of how Te Ao Mārama will operate in practice are not intended to be a one-size-fits-all approach. The model will be developed in a spirit of partnership with local iwi. It will include enhanced engagement with local communities, justice sector representatives and representatives of the profession both nationally and locally, to create a process that works for each court and addresses the needs of each community. You will hear more about our engagement plans in the weeks and months to come.

In Hamilton, we have already reached out to the local community, agencies and service providers. On 10 December, the Principal Family Court Judge, the Principal Youth Court Judge and I attended a hui in Hamilton with Waikato-Tainui, the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, Police, the Department of Corrections, Public Defence Service and Oranga Tamariki, as well as other relevant local agencies. It was great to meet again with Waikato-Tainui and agencies to continue discussing ideas as we work together to design the Te Ao Mārama model in the Waikato. Further hui are being organised to progress this.

Introducing Te Ao Mārama will coincide with delivery of the new Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment (AODT) Court, a separate court list for 18 to 25 year olds designed to improve procedural fairness - by adjusting language and processes to address the particular needs and vulnerabilities of this age group, in the Waikato later this year. It is important to note that the two are linked but not the same. Te Ao Mārama provides a new way of operating in all aspects of the District Court. The AODT Court provides specific treatment streams within the Criminal and Family court processes.

The Kaihautū (District Court judicial leadership), are continuing to engage closely with the Ministry of Justice in respect of the AODT Court’s operation in the Waikato. This includes providing guidance on the care and protection stream which will be included in the AODT Court, alongside the criminal stream. Additionally, best practice lessons will be implemented in the existing AODT Courts in Auckland and Waitakere that were drawn from the review of those courts.

To support this engagement, I have asked the Principal Family Court Judge, Judge Jacquelyn Moran, to lead the development of the AODT Court Family stream, and Principal Youth Court Judge, Judge John Walker, to lead development of the Young Adult List Court as part of the Te Ao Mārama model. Judge Denise Clark is supporting the AODT work for the criminal stream in Hamilton and Judge Lisa Tremewan, who helped found the AODT Court in Waitakere and Auckland, will be providing expert AODT Court support.

We are also considering how recommendations from a Criminal Process Improvement Programme that the Ministry of Justice is working on with the judiciary, and the wider ongoing Family Court changes will form part of the project in Waikato, and how this will all contribute to our Te Ao Mārama model.

Last week I also met with justice sector and iwi representatives in Gisborne to ascertain whether the Gisborne District Court would be ready willing and able to develop the Te Ao Mārama model at the same time as the development of the model in Hamilton. A significant degree of support was expressed.

I have specifically requested that all other courts wait for the Te Ao Mārama model to be developed in Hamilton (and potentially in Gisborne also). A framework establishing timeframes for the roll-out in all other courts is currently being developed.

I aim to regularly update you and all those who work in the District Court in the lead-up to implementing this vision in Hamilton (and any developments that may occur in Gisborne) over the coming months.

As we continue to develop the Te Ao Mārama model, I look forward to engaging with you, confident in the knowledge that the profession will support efforts to improve procedural fairness and access to justice for all New Zealanders who come to the court to seek justice.