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Report of the Principal Youth Court Judge, Judge John Walker

Community engagement key to finding lasting solutions

As we move into the second half of 2018, there is a sense of positivity about the innovation in the Youth Justice sphere.

Recent Youth Justice Indicators have provided a solid grounding for recognising positive advances in the system, as well as highlighting those areas where most attention is needed.

We continue to be presented with serious challenges by the young people who come into conflict with the law. The causes of offending are complex and multi-faceted, with factors such as family violence, neuro-disability, alcohol and drug addictions and mental illness playing a part. With young people usually entering the Youth Court at age 14 or 15, and generally on very serious charges, the causes are often well entrenched. They are difficult to pinpoint and very difficult to address.

We have also seen an increase in serious offending by girls, and inter-agency work is taking place so we can better understand and address this.

The Youth Justice Indicators and annual statistics continue to highlight the disproportionate rates of offending by young Māori, which is reflected in statistics in the adult courts. As we mark the 10th anniversary of the Rangatahi Court this year we have an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from this important initiative.

Image of Principal Youth Court Judge, Judge J Walker.

" … the key to working more effectively is to ensure our Youth Courts are a part of the communities they serve. This requires true community engagement at a local level, for each individual court"

Despite the challenges, the Youth Court remains a place of great hope. The engagement of so many agencies — Police Youth Aid, forensic clinicians, youth-justice social workers, education officers, and lay and youth advocates — all coming together in the courtroom, presents the best chance of achieving lasting solutions for young people who are on destructive and damaging paths.

Image of Judge Walker speaking at the opening of the 15th Rangatahi Court.

Principal Youth Court Judge John Walker speaking at the opening of the Rangatahi Court in Whāngarei.

Outside of the agencies, the key to working more effectively is to ensure our Youth Courts are a part of the communities they serve. This requires true community engagement at a local level, for each individual court. It means bringing the community into the court, and vice versa.

Local representation through the multi-agency team is one significant step towards this. The challenge for 2018 is to continue this kaupapa in a meaningful way, while preparing for the significant legislative changes coming into force in July 2019.

It is important that our incoming group of 17-year-olds, who will be encompassed within the Youth Court jurisdiction from that date, are treated in the same manner as any other young person in the youth justice system. They too must have the same principles of diversion and rehabilitation open to them, if we are to effect change for them.

 

Image of an empty Youth Court.