A proposed change to the justice system to allow 17-year-olds to be dealt with by the Youth Court would have served former Wellington Lions player Losi Filipo better than going through the adult court system, the Children's Commissioner says.
Andrew Becroft, the former principal Youth Court judge, said raising the age limit to 18 would have meant Mr Filipo, who admitted bashing four people on a night out in Wellington last year when he was a 17-year-old, would have got better help.
"He would have had a number of interventions. He's exactly the sort of person that you would want in the youth justice system, because I think we could do a very good job with him in addressing the underlying causes, the reasons for his offending," he told TV3's The Nation.
"He may have got 12 or 18 months' worth of programmes, interventions, counselling, expectations that he had to fulfil."
Mr Filipo escaped conviction when he appeared in Wellington District Court last month, with Judge Bruce Davidson taking into account the impact on his rugby career.
The case came to light this week when the victims publicly questioned why Mr Filipo's promising sporting future should have been a factor at sentencing.
The public and media backlash led to Mr Filipo withdrawing from the Wellington squad on Tuesday and to the winger and the union mutually agreeing to terminate his contract.
Judge Becroft said including 17-year-olds in the youth justice system was the right thing to do and would bring the country into line with the rest of the world.
"If we get it right there, we've got a great chance to get people out of the criminal justice pipeline," he said.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - at least in my lifetime - to do the right thing and to provide real hope, I think, for the New Zealand youth justice and criminal justice system."
A paper is set to go before cabinet on the issue after 34 community, academic and justice organisations penned an open letter calling for the change.