More marae courts planned

23:21, Feb 20 2010

Marae-based youth courts are gaining momentum in New Zealand with a third scheduled to open next month.

The Rangi Tahi scheme, in which youth offenders are referred to a marae once they've been through the youth court, has been operating at Gisborne's Te Poho o Rawiri Marae for almost three years.

A Rangi Tahi, meaning Maori youth court, was opened at the Manurewa Marae in south Auckland in November. Another will open within a week at the Hoani Waititi Marae in the Waitakere suburb of Sunnyvale.

Youth court offenders selected for the programme first have to attend a Family Group Conference (FGC) through the traditional youth court. Offenders then go to the marae instead of the court for subsequent hearings.

The offender, victims' families, police and other welfare advocates meet at the FGC to decide punishments, and effect plans to prevent re-offending.

Youth offenders in Gisborne are referred to the Te Poho o Rawiri Marae. Those appearing in the Manukau Youth Court are referred to the Manurewa Marae and those at the Waitakere may later appear at the Hoani Waititi Marae.

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The scheme was pioneered by Gisborne Judge Heemi Taumaunu to tackle the over-representation of Maori in the criminal justice system.

Maori account for about 17% of New Zealanders aged 14 to 16 but make up 54% of offenders in the youth courts and 60% of teenagers in custody.

Taumaunu, who sits at the Gisborne Rangi Tahi and will preside in Waitakere, said there was "massive demand" from the Maori community for marae-based youth courts. "Maori communities see other communities having their Rangi Tahi and are wondering where's theirs," he said.

Selection is largely dependent on marae's reach within the community. They must serve their "entire community" not just those affiliated to them and must be near youth courts. Taumaunu, whose older sister is former Silver Ferns captain Waimarama Taumaunu, predicted that another two or three would be set up in 12 to 18 months.

But he added: "I'm a bit concerned about mentioning other places publicly, raising expectations in those places, as things may not actually work out in the way everyone might have originally planned."

Taumaunu said it takes "a fair amount of effort behind the scenes" to set up Rangi Tahi courts. The major difficulty is recruiting judges when the traditional court system was already understaffed. But he argued that moving them to marae-based courts would not add to the strain on the justice system.

"I don't think so. These are some of the issues in the background that need to be worked out before establishing one [Rangi Tahi].

"Of course I am of the view it enhances what is happening in the youth court," he said.

Taumaunu said his plans to reduce Maori re-offending didn't end with Rangi Tahi.

"I think the substantive step that needs to now take place is to run programmes in conjunction with these Rangi Tahi courts that really do focus on making a difference and effective interventions into the lives of young people who are coming through the courts," he said.

"That's the next challenge, that's an on-going challenge. But to me that is as important as establishing a Rangi Tahi court in the first place."

Sunday News