Back to reports

Contents

A New Approach to the Youngest Adults in the District Court

District Court judges are leading development of a different kind of hearing for young adults that is being piloted in Porirua District Court.

Those aged 18 to 25 appearing in court are offered tailored support through the District Court’s first Young Adult List, which is designed to enhance procedural fairness.

This age group of defendants appear on a dedicated court list where specialist services are on hand to help identify and address any special needs or characteristics they may have.

A judicially led initiative, the Young Adult List began sitting in March 2020, although its official launch was delayed by the COVID-19 restrictions till the end of July.

Local iwi, Ngāti Toa, gifted the name, Iti rearea teitei kahikatea ka taea, to the List. This symbolises that with support the smallest bird, iti rearea, can fly to the top of the tallest tree.

Members of the judiciary and justice sector guests gather for a pōwhiri at Takapūwāhia marae before Ngāti Toa gifted the Young Adult List a name.

As a matter of procedural fairness, young adults require a different approach. Research shows that they have underdeveloped cognitive skills and emotional intelligence and tend to be more susceptible to impulsive behaviour and peer pressure.

There is also a high prevalence of neuro-disabilities and mental illnesses in this age group, demonstrating a further need to treat them differently.

The Young Adult List draws on processes used in the Youth Court to remove barriers to participation, help young adults to effectively engage in the court process and generally understand court proceedings.

"The Young Adult List draws on processes used in the Youth Court to remove barriers to participation, help young adults to effectively engage in the court process and generally understand court proceedings."

This is done by being alert to the presence of disability, information sharing between the Youth and Family Courts and the District Court, adapting the physical layout of the courtroom, and ensuring judges and lawyers and others who speak in court use plain language rather than legal jargon.

In addition, a dedicated and specially trained multi-disciplinary team is present at each court session to help support young adults to actively participate in the court process. This team includes adolescent mental health workers, iwi liaison officers, adolescent-focused Corrections Officers and Restorative Justice.

An information sharing protocol allows for any existing information about the young adult held by the Youth Court and Family Court to be made available. This ensures everyone involved, particularly the judges, knows of the challenges facing the young person and can tailor responses and interventions effectively.

Ultimately it is hoped that the provision of wrap-around services and the tailored processes used in court may provide these young adults with the support they need to live healthy, productive lives, reduce the likelihood of their reoffending and enhance their sense of having been treated fairly by the justice system.

Principal Youth Court Judge John Walker presides at the first sitting of the Youth Adult List in March 2020.

Principal Youth Court Judge John Walker led development of the pilot with the help of local judges and court staff, and the support of the Ministry of Justice, the Porirua justice community and Ngāti Toa.

The delayed official launch was attended by the Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann, the Minister of Justice, Andrew Little, the Chief District Court Judge, Heemi Taumaunu, the Principal Family Court Judge Jacquelyn Moran, Judge Walker, Porirua’s resident judge, Judge James Johnston and the Secretary for Justice Andrew Kibblewhite.

Judge Walker addresses the Young Adult List’s official launch.