Joshua Harvey: Youth Court Processes

He aha te kai ō te rangatira? He Kōrero, he kōrero, he kōrero.

What is the food of the leader? It is knowledge. It is communication.

At BVA The Practice our whakataukī is integral to who we are and how we conduct ourselves every day. In this article Josh Harvey shares his knowledge about the Youth Court and discusses the implications of focussing on intervention. As a collaborative team, we believe we can use our experiences to help educate each other.

In perhaps overly simplistic terms, sentencing an offender in the New Zealand criminal justice system requires a balancing of the seriousness of the offending and the personal characteristics of those who offend to reach the fairest outcome. The Youth Court, governed by Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, is for offending by young people that is too serious to be dealt with by the police within the community. While the District Court is procedure focussed, the Youth Court is outcome focussed. The Youth Court’s focus on achieving the best outcome for young people often requires intervention.

Although intervention can mean a number of things, this article refers to the disposition alternatives within the Youth Court that are available to a Judge. The Court has several interventions available under section 283 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, these include reparation, fines, supervision programmes, and in some cases a stay in a youth residential facility. Used in combination, these disposition alternatives may promote a sense of responsibility in the young person while charting a course to maximise the potential of the young person to grow into a successful member of the community.

To assess the most appropriate disposition it is vital for the Court and Counsel to have an accurate perception of the young person. The use of timelines is a growing local practice. Timelines are a quickly becoming a key aspect of the disposition assessment process as they can show how a young person has grown, changed, and adapted to their environment. A thorough timeline means that all involved are able to understand the full history of the person before the Court. The events, actions, and outcomes that came before the most recent offence can influence how the court system progresses with the case. Knowing an offender’s timeline allows us, as the prosecution, to write submissions to the court that accurately encompass all aspects of the young person and their actions.

Our role as Crown prosecutors is to work alongside parties in the Youth Court to ensure just and appropriate outcomes are reached. Our responsibility to the community is to care about achieving the best outcome for everyone. We believe that community protection is not about locking someone up; Community protection is a long-term view. A young person locked up today may become a future violent adult offender. Community protection is about making sure that community safety is sustainable, which is not achieved by mass incarceration.

Former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan once said, “knowledge is power, information is liberating”. The key to successful interventions in the Youth Court is the appropriate application of the tools provided to the Court by the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989. The ‘appropriate application’ however, is a moving target and will change for each young person depending on their personal history and the level of their offending. To hit that target, the use of comprehensive timelines is a significant help as it offers much needed knowledge and information.