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Youth Justice Practice Issues - an update

NZ $45.00
Hon Judge Andrew Becroft Aaron Lloydd
His Hon Judge Becroft
Principal Youth Court Judge
Aaron Lloydd
Senior Solicitor
Ministry of Social Development
Fergus More Emily Bruce
Fergus More
Scholefield Cockroft Lloyd
Emily Bruce
Research Counsel to the Principal Youth Court Judge

This book is only available in PDF format

Published: 17 October, 2012
Pages: 105


In 1989, New Zealand saw the enactment of a piece of principled, and, at the time, visionary legislation: the Children, Young Persons, and their Families Act of 1989. And since then, our youth justice system has sustained remarkably few changes. Academic Dr Nessa Lynch compares it to the adult criminal justice system, in which “there have been 16 separate major amendments of the sentencing statute since 2002; five amendments of the bail laws since 2000 and five amendments of the parole laws since 2002 (legislation.govt.nz).” (and, since the publication of this article, one further major amendment to each of sentencing and bail laws).[1] The Fresh Start reforms of 2010 represent the first major amendments to the Children, Young Persons, and their Families Act. There are two questions that might be asked. Firstly, why has the youth justice system remained so stable? It appears to operate largely under the radar, and it is thought to be operating well. There is a very core group of longstanding professionals who have been involved in the system and advocate strongly for it. And secondly, the focus for today, what effect have the first major amendments had on this otherwise highly stable system?

The Fresh Start reforms were introduced with a view to working “more intensively with (serious and persistent young offenders) over a longer period of time.”[2] They enabled Youth Court Judges to craft longer orders (and combinations of orders), introduced mentoring, drug and alcohol and parenting orders, widened the jurisdiction of the Youth Court to give it the discretion to include 12 and 13 year olds (who commit purely indictable offences or are repeat offenders) and introduced the Military Activity Camp (MAC), operating out of Te Puna Wai O Tuhinapo in Rolleston.

Two years on, it is time to ask ourselves what effect this has had? A few things are clear. Statistics from the Ministry of Justice for last year reveal that fewer young people are being convicted and transferred to the adult District Court, and the use of supervision with activity has increased. The mentoring, parenting and drug and alcohol orders are not being highly used. Children are coming into our courts, though in small numbers (28 at the time this paper went to print). 86 young people have been through the MAC programme.

The purpose of this webinar is to consider the practical effects of these changes, and consider how they are affecting, or should affect, youth advocates’ practice.

However, Fresh Start has not been the only change in the youth justice sector in the past year. Far from it. In this webinar, we also detail some of the other key changes: specifically, the introduction of the Protocol for the Sharing of Information Between the Family and Youth Courts and the emergence of lay advocates in the Youth Court.

Amongst of all this, youth advocates play an absolutely fundamental role. Dr Alison Cleland of the University of Auckland recently conducted qualitative research into the youth advocate role in New Zealand.[3] Her research involved interviewing 34 youth advocates (approximately 14% of youth advocates currently practising). In her view, the research demonstrated the “importance and complexity of the youth advocates’ role.” 47% of those interviewed in her sample had 16-39 years’ experience. She detailed the variety of skills that youth advocates require; the ability to establish rapport with the young client and their whānau, to develop strategies to deal with the whānau and to recognise and take into account factors that may be hindering young people’s comprehension. She noted that youth advocates are required to explain complex legal procedures and decisions. She acknowledged that, as well as fulfilling the traditional criminal defence lawyer role, youth advocates have several other roles; informing the Court about the young person’s family and environmental circumstances, mediating between different parties in the youth justice system, mentoring, supporting and protecting the young person, and advocating for the young person’s broader interests. She recommended that the recruitment and specialist training occur for the new generation of youth advocates, covering Māori culture and tikanga, young people’s cognitive and developmental issues, and communication and interview techniques suited to young clients.

One of the most powerful and underrated parts of the youth justice system is the active involvement of a specialist Youth Court bar. We are the only country in the world where youth advocates are provided, irrespective of means, to all young people who appear in the Youth Court. It has developed a really mature, specialist, active Youth Court bar, and the role youth advocates play in the system should not be underestimated. Youth advocates are in a sense the guardians and watchdogs of the system and process. It is important to emphasise this crucial role that youth advocates play and to urge you all to continue live up to the very high standard that has been set in the last 23 years.


[1] www.legislation.govt.nz
[2] Child, Youth and Family website http://www.cyf.govt.nz/youth-justice/fresh-start.html
[3] For the full report see http://www.youthlaw.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/Youth-Advocates-in-Aotearoa-2012.pdf. or www.lawfoundation.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Youth-Advocates-in-Aotearoa-Youth-Justice-System-2012-web-version.pdf. Excerpts are provided in Appendix 1 to this paper.

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