The Justice Sector’s Contribution to the Government’s Wellbeing Agenda


Tēnā koutou katoa,

Tēnā koutou katoa,

Tēnā koutou rau rangatira mā.                               

Tēnā koutou kua huihui mai nei.

Before I start, I would like to acknowledge Helen Vermuelen, Criminal Manager in the Christchurch High Court for over 20 years. I understand that Helen was a beloved colleague of many here, Helen lost her fight with cancer and is being laid to rest today in Christchurch. Haere, haere, haere tū atu.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you this afternoon about a passion I know we all share - creating a fair and safe Aotearoa/New Zealand where all our citizens have easy access to justice when they need it.

As a child in Samoa the elders of my village would point to the mountains and they would recite a Samoan proverb ‘E afua mai mauga le manuia o le nu’u.’

From the mountains flow blessings unto the villages.

Rain would fall in the mountains above and fill the rivers, the rivers in turn would sustain life in the villages below.

This is symbolic of the task we face in shaping the criminal justice system for the betterment of all citizens of Aotearoa-New Zealand, with a determined focus on those most affected, both historically and systematically.

In recent years, we have heard from New Zealanders – and Māori and Pasifika leaders in particular – about their desire to transform the justice system to achieve better outcomes. Part of that is through initiatives actively reaching out, and demonstrating commitment to real change, by listening and recognising openly that we need to do things differently. Our work to transform the criminal justice system is consistent with wellbeing work being undertaken by the Government – their commitment is to put the wellbeing of current and future generations of New Zealanders at the heart of everything we do.

Wellbeing means giving people the capabilities to live lives of purpose, balance and meaning. A wellbeing approach aims to improve New Zealanders' living standards.

For Pacific peoples, our wellbeing approach is holistic, incorporating:

  • thriving Pacific languages and cultures,
  • economic prosperity for families,
  • achieving healthy and resilient communities and;
  • looking to the future to build confident, thriving pacific young people.

One of the Ministry of Justice’s enduring priorities, and mine now as Minister for Courts, is to maintain the integrity of the courts and tribunals – not just as places to seek solutions and recompense, but to ensure we are upholding the important values of our nation – and that we protect the mana of people. The justice system contributes to wellbeing by helping to keep people safe, protecting their rights, helping to fairly resolve conflict, and promoting pro-social norms.

While internationally, our system is highly regarded in relation to procedural justice and integrity, we have heard for decades that it is not serving the needs of many New Zealanders very well, and is in fact causing greater harm in some instances – Māori are particularly negatively impacted, and victims also report their needs are frequently not met.

This Government is committed to improving that situation without compromising the justice system’s clear strengths.

We recognise to do this that we must work in partnership with Māori, and with communities to identify solutions that meet their needs – our efforts to improve things without these partnerships have failed in the past.  We need to learn new ways of doing things together.

Māori and Victimisation Research Study

I would like to share with you some very recent research - the “Māori and Victimisation” study.

It was released two weeks ago by the Ministry of Justice and it uses data from their New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey. This report reminds us why transformation of the criminal justice system is a priority in generating wellbeing, and what our focus should be.

The facts being laid out are shocking, and unacceptable – however, in order to move forward and improve, we must take a hard look about where we are. We have the power to ensure these statistics become a figment of the past, and that a brighter future exists for our tamariki.

Based on 16,000 interviews over two years, the report revealed:

  • Māori are the victims of crime more than any other ethnic group in New Zealand, 38% of Māori adults were victimised within a 12-month period, compared to 30% of the general population
  • Five percent of Māori adults’ experience 81% of all violent interpersonal offences and 56% of burglaries – meaning a small number of Māori are victims of a very disproportionate amount of crime.
  • Thirty six percent of Māori adults have experienced some form of intimate partner or sexual violence during their lifetime compared to 29% for the general population
  • Being a Māori female, aged between 40-49, identifying as gay/lesbian or bisexual, separated or divorced, or living in a single parent household can mean a higher chance of having experienced intimate partner or sexual violence
  • Māori adults who are unemployed, under financial pressure, and who rent their accommodation from local or central government are more likely to experience violent interpersonal offences, and their homes are more likely to be burgled
  • Māori adults living in high deprivation areas or single parent, single person or multi-family households had a greater likelihood of experiencing household offences and burglary.

A previous Ministry of Justice report in 2006 found that Māori were more likely to be victimised across all offence types, and experience multiple offences, with social and economic deprivation being a major contributing factor.

Report after report concludes that the justice system has failed, and is failing Māori, and the high level of crime experienced by Māori is driven by the effects of colonisation, and social and economic deprivation.

Fifteen years later these repeated findings suggest that little has improved since reporting on this issue began, and that these trends will continue unless significant changes are made.

We all share a common commitment at both executive and judicial levels to address these findings – however, ultimately, the way New Zealand is going to reduce the disproportionate number of Māori in our criminal justice system will be through better housing, better income levels, and better social and cultural conditions for Māori.

As a country we will have to make significant structural changes and work in equal partnership with tangata whenua. These are huge challenges for us.

Nonetheless, for those of us who work in the justice sector we have in recent years undertaken many initiatives towards transforming the criminal justice system, and you our judiciary, have been leading partners with the Government in this transformation to contribute to the goal of improving New Zealanders’ wellbeing.

Let us consider those recent initiatives.

Hāpaitia te Oranga Tangata

During the last term of Government, the Hāpaitia te Oranga Tangata Safe and Effective Justice programme was initiated by Ministers to set a new direction for change.

To support this work, Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora - the Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group was formed in July 2018 to engage in a public conversation about the criminal justice system.

Te Uepū, attended over 220 Hui across 13 regions, talked directly with many hundreds of people and received over 200 online or emailed submissions – hearing from thousands of New Zealanders.

Engagements included a victim’s workshop, a national Māori Hui and a Pacific fono. They heard from people harmed by crime and people who have offended.

This extensive community engagement produced the following reports: “Te Uepū: Turuki! Turuki! Transforming our criminal justice system”, the Chief Victims’ Advisor’s: “Te Tangi o te Manawanui Recommendations for Reform” and “Ināia Tonu Nei”, the report from Hui Māori

They all recommended that the justice system must change. Let’s look at some recent and upcoming initiatives.

Family and Sexual Violence

Ending family and sexual violence is a priority for this Government. In the Budgets of 2018 and 2019 we significantly increased investment to combat family violence and sexual violence.

We created “The Joint Venture,” a whole of Government response made up of 10 Government agencies with collective responsibility for government action. Ministers of the Crown, likewise, are working closely together to combat family and sexual violence.

We are progressing a national strategy and action plan to eliminate family and sexual violence. It will be a whole-of-society plan. The Government has passed significant reforms to the family violence laws - the Domestic Violence Victims’ Protection Act and the Family Violence Act. This latter Act introduced new offences for strangulation, coerced marriage, and assault on a family member.

We are also progressing reforms to the trial process in sexual violence cases, to help reduce the re-traumatisation complainants experience when they attend court and give evidence. Key changes in the Sexual Violence Legislation Bill currently in the last stages through Parliament will tighten restrictions on evidence about a complainant's sexual history, and ensure that pre-recorded cross-examination is an option in appropriate cases.

I want to acknowledge the work the judiciary is doing to foster best practice in dealing with vulnerable people in the courtroom, especially in family and sexual violence cases. The dynamics of these cases can be challenging, and it's great to see judges taking the lead in proactively recognising and responding to the specific needs of vulnerable witnesses.

There is also reform of the Family Court, with $62 million injected into a new law to support parents dealing with separation and child custody disputes. The funding will establish family justice liaison officers, and provide more information and resources to help parents and whānau navigate the system.

Te Ao Mārama

In November 2020, the Chief District Court Judge, Heemi Taumaunu, announced a vision for a new model for the District Court - Te Ao Mārama. The Government is on board and supports this transformational change, and as Minister for Courts, I am eager to see how it improves outcomes for our Māori and Pasifika communities in particular.

Te Ao Mārama means ‘the world of light’, or moving from the dark to the enlightened world, and stems from a Te Ao Māori worldview.

The Te Ao Mārama vision is that the District Court will strive to become an increasingly enlightened court where all people may seek justice, regardless of their means or abilities, their ethnicity, language or culture, and who they are or where they are from – reflecting the needs of a multi-cultural Aotearoa.

The new model will take the knowledge, skills and approaches learned from the existing specialist courts, so that the best practice elements are incorporated throughout the mainstream District Court.

These elements include infusing tikanga and te reo Māori, using plain language in the court, improving the information available to Judges about people’s backgrounds and needs, and improving wraparound support.

The model will be implemented in a spirit of partnership with iwi and local communities, with support from the Ministry of Justice and cross-sector agencies. 

Incremental implementation is proposed to commence in 2021, beginning with the establishment of three initiatives in the Kirikiriroa (Hamilton) District Court that fall within the broader Te Ao Mārama framework:

  • In mid-June we will launch the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment (AODT) Court in the Criminal Court, and Alcohol and other Drug Treament pathway in the Family Court for Care and Protection cases.
  • The judiciary and the Ministry are also looking to establish the Young Adult List for people aged 18-25 in the Criminal Court.

The Alcohol And Other Drug Treatment Courts

The design of the Waikato Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment (AODT) Court  strongly features components of Te Ao Mārama. 

In the AODT Court model, once accepted into the court participants are assigned a clinical case manager who will work with the participant to develop a comprehensive treatment pathway plan based on their individual needs. The judge plays a significant role overseeing and encouraging the participant in regular court monitoring sessions.

A unique role in the AODT Court is the Pou Oranga. In Auckland and Waitākere, the Pou Oranga has expertise in te reo Māori and tikanga, along with experience of substance use recovery and wellness.The Pou Oranga advises on the inclusion of  kaupapa Māori in the Court processes and embedding Māori practices throughout the court.

A key difference between the Waikato AODT Court and Te Whare Whakapiki Wairua in Auckland and Waitākere is the Ministry of health will provide  a whānau support person and a Alcohol and Other Drug Clinician who undertakes screening to give an initial indication of level of need, plus either a brief intervention and/or referral to community based treatment. Screening results will also inform who will be considered for the AODT Court (and therefore comprehensive assessment). This is to ensure there are opportunities for early intervention, and to support those with lower and medium alcohol and/other drug needs who would not be eligible for the AODT Court.  This is a significant development and is not part of the Te Whare Whakapiki Wairua court Alcohol and other Drugs Court, Auckland and Waitākere processes.

An evaluation of Te Whare Whakapiki Wairua, Auckland and Waitākere Court found that within 2 years of graduating the programme, AODT Court graduates were:

  • 23% less likely to reoffend for any offence
  • 35% less likely to reoffend for a serious offence, and
  • 25% less likely to be imprisoned because of their reoffending.

The Government has agreed to continue and strengthen Te Whare Whakapiki Wairua in  Auckland and Waitākere and establish an AODT Court in the Waikato and Hawkes’ Bay.

Mana Ōrite

A Mana Ōrite (equal mana) relationship has been established between Ināia Tonu Nei (the leadership group formed out of Hui Māori 2019) and the Justice Sector Leadership Board, to achieve the shared goal of creating a future that benefits Māori and all New Zealanders by transforming the justice system.

This relationship uses a waka hourua – a two-hulled waka – as its visual model with Māori as one hull of the waka and the Crown representing the other. Although each hull can function on its own, the stability, speed and the strength of the waka is only realised when they are lashed together and work as one.

Mana Ōrite is about true partnership and achieving shared goals by utilising each other’s strengths, knowledge, and expertise.

Innovative Courthouses

The Ministry of Justice has a substantial property portfolio across the country, much of which is in a poor and deteriorating condition.

The Government is investing in improving our property portfolio, both to remediate issues such as health and security and to undertake new innovative approaches.

We are taking the opportunity to re-design court environments through our Innovative Courthouse programme, to better suit the needs of communities, partner with iwi and integrate with the broader justice sector.

Two key projects under our Innovative Courthouse programme are new courthouses for Tauranga and Whanganui. We are also refurbishing courthouses where we received COVID-19 response funding, in particular the Wellington District Court.

In Tauranga and Whanganui we have been working closely with iwi in the designing and planning of new, innovative courthouses. 

Ministry/Iwi partnership will be a feature of all new courthouse and major redevelopment projects..

For courthouses that require significant upgrades, there is an opportunity to move away from traditional courthouse design and invest in new approaches to delivering justice services.

Innovative Courthouses are buildings that are aimed at better meeting the needs of all participants in a more cohesive environment that supports broader outcomes.

They will be co-designed with significant input from the judiciary, iwi/hapu and local communities and will include input from victims, justice and social sector agencies, as well as, people who have lived experience in our justice system.


Finally, we recognise that it will likely take a generation or more to fully realise the vision of a genuinely New Zealand criminal justice system such as described in the Hāpaitia reports.

This system will be a system which is a part of the community, not held at arm’s length, and where accountability is created through connection with communities, not by separating people from their whānau and families.

A justice system which builds the oranga, wellbeing, which includes safety of people, whānau and communities – this should be just as important as protecting rights and procedural justice and is structured in a way that reflects Te Tiriti responsibilities.

I would once more like to bring attention to Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu for his incredible influence on the transformation of our justice system, shaping it to focus on community-based, culture-based, and rehabilitation-based solutions. He is a fundamental part to restoring mana to a system that has failed too many people, for far too long.

There will be challenges and necessary shifts in thinking for us all – our assumptions about how and why we do things will need to be tested against the wellbeing outcomes.

We can see the beginning of these shifts starting to occur already in the examples given – there is positive momentum in place, and our future will be a bright one if we remain moving forward in this manner.

At the outset, I mentioned the Elders of my village who recited to me the Samoan proverb ‘E afua mai mauga le manuia o le nu’u.’ From the mountains flow blessings unto the villages.

If the water that flows from the mountains to sustain life for those along the river is full of debris and murky then the people will suffer. But if the water is clean, clear and crisp then the people will prosper.

I see you Judges’ of the Senior Courts as the Mountains. Your decisions are far reaching and your leadership can shape the future criminal justice landscape for all of Aotearoa-New Zealand.