Profile: Louise Brown – Duty Lawyer Supervisor, Porirua District Court
Louise Brown is the Duty Lawyer Supervisor at Porirua District Court and has been instrumental in the development and evolution of the Young Adult List Court pilot.
Tell us about your journey into the law
I grew up in the US. My father was a Kiwi. My first degree was in Sociology, specialising in Crime and Delinquency and I did a lot of work with ex-offenders and the homeless. From that experience, I recognised that I wanted to help people. I was most interested in helping people not enter the criminal justice system or, if they were already in it, to help them get out and not return. From my degree, I decided to enter education, as education was a recognised factor in reducing recidivism.
So, I went back to school after taking a little time off, and I got my Masters in Education and certification to teach. When completing my Masters, I chose to specialise in Instructional Strategies, furthering my understanding that people learn in different ways.
I worked with teenagers at risk in an inner-city school. When I started teaching there was a saying that if you could change the life of one student out of a 100 then you had done a good job.
With my background and the knowledge from my Sociology and Education Degrees, I came to New Zealand and studied Law. I did not initially intend to get into criminal law, but found it was my immediate interest. However, I knew that whilst practicing in Criminal Law I had a desire to make sure people didn’t come back to court. My role as a criminal lawyer has always been about the rehabilitative side, ensuring that we help the individuals who come before the court and understand and hear their side. It is important we keep that in mind and see that most people in the world can change for the better.
I did trial work before I decided to become a Duty Lawyer Supervisor and I certainly loved that time, but I wanted to bring more balance to my life. I loved being in the Court, so the Duty Lawyer Supervisor role allows me to be in the Court every day. As a result I get to know a lot of the people who come continuously before the Court. I get the opportunity to understand that person better and try to help the individuals make positive changes in their lives.
So, now the work in the Young Adult List Court utilises my knowledge and experiences in Education and Sociology as well as my degrees in Law. It is ideal for me.
What do you enjoy about your role in the Young Adult List Court?
The Young Adult List Court is one of my career highlights, and it is a culmination of a lot of other positive experiences.
I love working in the Young Adult List Court pilot at Porirua District Court. I feel I have finally found an area in the Criminal Justice System where my entire background comes into play and I can really assist Young Adults though the justice system in a more inclusive and supportive way.
The pilot, led by Judge Walker, is for Young Adult Defendants aged 18- to 25-year-olds and is focused on ensuring young adults in this age group, who often have neuro-disabilities, get to be seen, heard, understood, and meaningfully participate in the courtroom process. The Duty Lawyer Supervisor and Duty Lawyers play an integral part in the Young Adult List. We are in the courts regularly, so we are in a position to help the court develop and evolve.
Connecting with the lawyers and continuity for our clients
When a lawyer comes to appear in the Young Adult List Court for the first time, I am there to show them how the Court is set up and works. I am there to explain how this Court differs and assist in introducing them to the Community Support Team that is involved with the Court. I will also check to see if the young adult they represent has appeared in the Young Adult List Court.
We strive to have a real continuity with people who come before the Court. From their first appearance onward, we create files. Usually in Court any notes from when a Duty Lawyer appears for a defendant ultimately either go with them to be filed away or discarded. In the Young Adult List Court we actually keep a record of all appearances together with any additional correspondence that arises about the young adult from in between appearances.
All this paperwork goes together on the file so when the young adult comes back before the Court, the person who has been assigned to them or the duty lawyer who is looking after them can pick it up and see what has occurred and what is intended to happen on that day. If Legal Aid has been applied for then we will have their initial disclosure and a record of any community support people they have seen already for the new assigned Lawyer.
It is important that there is real continuity for the young adult. We do not want them coming back each time having to explain themselves over and over. It also helps to insure the young adult is staying on track with their case.
As Duty Lawyer Supervisor I do admit that I do a lot of “extra” work for this Court. I think it is important as the Court is doing great work but it is still developing as a Court. We are learning more things as we go and so we are finding more things to try to implement into the Court to continue to help the young adults appearing.
For the young adults that the Duty Lawyers are assisting, I try keep in touch with them between their appearances to ensure they are doing okay and checking in to see if they need to connect with any of our Community Support Team. I have become the contact person if anything falls apart. I will know who from the support team to connect the client back to.
Adapting our style to the courtroom
In the Young Adult Court, we use plain language and check with the young person they understand what is going on and what they have to do. For example, when I talk to the young adults about bail conditions I talk about “the rules.” Talking about a breach of bail conditions is not always understood, but people do understand talking about not breaking the rules.
When you enter the courtroom, you immediately know this is not a regular court.
The room is not only full of court staff and lawyers, but there is a team of community support people. The court has wrap-around social services to help the young adults make connections and get the support they need.
Everyone who is involved in providing support in the Young Adult List Court, feels very connected and excited about the court. We all love Fridays. We see the hope and opportunity in the courtroom. Today might be the day to make a difference.
We do not always have successes in the Court and sometimes we have young adults reoffend, but that does not change how they will be treated the next time in this Court. If a young adult does come back before the Court, we are right there for them again and this time we may know better what we need to do to assist them in their path forward and hopefully this time out of the justice system.
What do you do to relax outside of work?
I keep balance in life by going over the hill each day home to the Wairarapa and my lifestyle block. I am a crazy animal lover and have a lot of animals as a result. I think we can learn a lot from animals. I have watched a number of friendships or relationships develop between different breeds of animals. I think this is a good reminder that anyone from any walk of life can find connections with and be there for each other.