Church stands up for youth; opposes proposed Police powers

Oranga Tamariki’s new youth justice bill is getting some hefty opposition from the Archdiocese of Wellington EJP Commission, Challenge 2000 and the Attorney General’s Office.

Their submissions challenge the Oranga Tamariki (Youth Justice Demerit Points) Amendment Bill’s proposal that a system of demerit points be assigned by police to young offenders.

This system would enable police to make demerit point decisions without a judge’s oversight, without input from whānau, victims, social workers, or other groups in the community.

The Bill is currently at the Select Committee stage.

All three submissions are concerned that the Bill appears fundamentally in conflict with the key principles outlined in Section 5 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989.

“This bill is based on a failed understanding of the New Zealand Youth Justice system, the causes of youth crime and how to reduce youth crime,” says Challenge.

The three submissions agree that if the youth justice bill were to become law it would:

  • Reduce the effectiveness and the New Zealand Youth Justice system by undermining the Family Group Conference system (FGC).

The decision to prosecute a young person is reduced to a process that uses an untrained police officer’s assessment of the severity of the crime and of the circumstances of the offending, using an untested score system, Challenge warns.

  • Undermine the key principles outlined in Section 5, and section 208, of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989.

It is inconsistent with the right of a child to be treated in a manner taking account of their age, the right to natural justice and the right to freedom from discrimination, comments Attorney General David Parker.

In his view these limitations on the young person’s rights cannot be justified under section 5 of the Bill of Rights Act.

The submissions also agree the Bill would also:

  • Reduce the Justice system’s ability to eradicate acknowledged systemic racism.

Recent reports show racism and/or unconscious bias leads to poorer outcomes for Māori and Pasifika within the Justice system. A greater proportion of Māori being charged and facing harsher penalties than non-Māori, Challenge notes.

“This bill grants Police unbridled discretion to allocate demerit points. How can this process address issues of racism and/or unconscious bias that are already acknowledged?” Challenge asks.

The submissions also say the Bill will:

  • Fail to provide Natural justice and the right to legal advice and support.
  • Increase re-offending rates by introducing measures and interventions that an evidence based approach demonstrates will increase recidivism.
  • Exclude a restorative option for some victims.

The bill reduces “all the complex situations of young offenders to a simple numbering system which takes into account only a police officer’s assessment of the severity of the crime and of the offending,” the Archdiocese says.

The Archdiocese was also critical of the Bill’s timing while investigations are underway into Oranga Tamariki’s failure to adequately partner with, consult and involve Māori in decisions about care and protection of young people.

The Waitangi Tribunal, Office for the Commissioner for Children, Whānau Ora commissioning agency and the Ombudsman are all following up these investigations.


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