Northland's Rangatahi Court a chance to change lives - judge

It's hoped Northland's first Rangatahi Court will connect young Māori offenders in the region with positive role models.

Terenga Paraoa Marae in Whangārei will host the court, with a ceremony being held on Saturday to mark its opening.

The Rangatahi Courts operate within the Youth Court system, but in a marae setting. They bring together the whānau of the offender and a kaumātua or kuia to provide guidance, all under the leadership of a Youth Court judge.

Whangārei-based judge Greg Davis will head the new court. He says many of those who pass through the Youth Court are disconnected from their culture and their whānau.

"For a lot of these young people, the only role models they've ever had are those who've led a life of crime. So to meet other Māori who are not acquainted with a life of crime is often a first."

As part of the Rangatahi Court process, all of the young people are expected to stand and deliver their pepeha or personal speech. Judge Davis says it can be a huge revelation.

"In order to do their pepeha the young person often has to learn about themselves, who they are and where they came from.

"A mother once said to me, 'Judge - the most important thing about our boy learning his pepeha is that we all had to do it together. We learnt about our history, we learnt where we came from, we had to go back to our marae.'

"It was a hugely beneficial exercise for their whole whānau."

A group representing more than 120 hapū in Whangārei says it's high time a Rangatahi Court was established in the region. Te Huinga deputy chair Huhana Lyndon hopes it will not be the last in Northland.

"Let's get the model right here in Whangārei, in the urban setting, and then look for opportunities to grow the kaupapa further north," she says.

In Northland last year, 134 people appeared in the Youth Court, half of those in Whangārei. More than 80 percent were Māori.

Justice Minister Andrew Little.
Justice Minister Andrew Little. Photo credit: The Nation

 "We know that youth offending in Northland is a real problem," says Justice Minister Andrew Little.

"They absolutely have to be accountable for what they've done, but this is a real opportunity for the community to provide real meaningful opportunities for change so that they don't reoffend."

Analysis by the Ministry of Justice in 2014 estimated that young people who appeared in a Rangatahi Court were 11 percent less likely to reoffend.

"The magic trick of reducing offending and reducing prison numbers is intervening as early as possible," says Mr Little.

The new court in Whangārei will be the 15th established since the first in 2008.