District Court launches “transformative” Te Ao Mārama model

The new model “reflects the needs of a multi-cultural Aotearoa where everyone can seek justice”

District Court launches “transformative” Te Ao Mārama model

The District Court of New Zealand has launched what Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu said is a “transformative” Te Ao Mārama model.

Taumaunu said in a statement that the new model “reflects the needs of a multi-cultural Aotearoa where everyone can seek justice and feel they are heard and understood.” The model draws from the “mai te pō ki te ao mārama” concept, which translates to “the transition from night to the enlightened world.”

“The Te Ao Mārama model will operate in the spirit of partnership with local iwi and local communities to design a solution that works for multi-cultural Aotearoa New Zealand and with support from the Ministry of Justice and cross-sector agencies,” Taumaunu said.

He outlined the key features of the new model as follows:

  • focus on social, psychological, emotional and physical underlying causes of crime
  • referral pathways for tailored rehabilitation or treatment
  • wider community, iwi and stakeholder involvement in court
  • heightened interagency coordination
  • use of plain language in court
  • Kaupapa Māori approaches in the mainstream
  • exploration of a new Kaitakawaenga (coordinator) role between the court, participants and services
  • greater use of cultural speakers through section 27 of the Sentencing Act

Looking into the underlying causes of offences and not only offences themselves will indicate a shift in the court, Taumaunu said. Best practices that were established in specialist courts will be integrated into the mainstream criminal jurisdiction under the new model; this will aid in boosting access to justice and procedural and substantive fairness for all parties, including defendants, victims, witnesses and whanau.

“For many years, judges of the District Court have been leading innovation in solution-focused justice through specialist courts. These courts focus on offenders where issues such as addiction, homelessness, cultural disconnection and poor mental health, among others, are driving or contributing to their offending,” he said. “The specialist courts share common features of the tailored, community approach pioneered in the Youth Court and its Rangatahi courts, as well as in the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court (AODT) courts in Auckland and Waitakere. Now is the time to leverage this progress and apply best practice across the entire District Court.”

The Hamilton District Court will adopt the Te Ao Mārama model in 2021, and will absorb the new Waikato AODT court. The AODT court in Hamilton will also cover the family jurisdiction in an expansion initiative.

In addition, the court will establish a novel rehabilitative path for mothers with dependency issues in Care and Protection cases wherein the dependency has either risked or resulted in the removal of the child/children.

“The Te Ao Mārama model will have a strong focus on procedural fairness to help ensure all those in court are engaged, understand the process and leave feeling heard and understood,” Taumaunu said. “The District Court is to be a place where everyone – whether they are defendants, witnesses, complainants, victims, parties, or whānau – can come to seek justice, regardless of their means or abilities and regardless of their culture or ethnicity, and regardless of who they are or where they are from.”

As part of the initiative, he said that the District Court will look to adopt “plain language and culture and processes that incorporate tikanga and te ao Māori.”

“The specialist courts have shown us how to do this. It is the right thing to do for everyone affected by the business of New Zealand’s biggest court,” Taumaunu said.

As chief judge, Taumaunu’s statutory obligation is “to ensure the orderly and efficient conduct of the business,” he said. His responsibilities in this regard cover the rostering of judges, work scheduling and setting standards for best practice in the court.

The Te Ao Mārama model is expected to be implemented across the District Courts throughout the country. The implementation does not necessitate changes to legislation, as it is within current legal frameworks.

Taumaunu announced the model on 11 November at a Norris Ward McKinnon lecture.

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