Time for age of criminal responsibility to be raised, more 'by Māori, for Māori' initiatives, Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft says

Andrew Becroft. Photo credit: The AM Show

Outgoing Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft has called for the abolishment of youth justice residences and a radical overhaul of the youth justice system during a speech at Victoria University.

Judge Becroft made the comments in the first of several speeches he'll deliver in the coming weeks, reflecting on his five years as Children's Commissioner and what needs to be fixed.

He also appealed for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised, a standalone Youth Court and more "by Māori, for Māori initiatives".

"It is past time New Zealand took action on some ingrained injustices within it," Judge Becroft said in a statement ahead of the speech.

"The Youth Court should be empowered to deal with all offending by all under 18-year-olds and be responsible for all sentencing.

"This would promote a consistent and youth-specific approach that prioritises alternatives to charging in court and emphasises rehabilitation for people under 18, still leaving all sentencing options open," Becroft said.

He said 10, the minimum age of criminal responsibility, was "unarguably too low".

"It should be set at 12 and soon moved to 14 as soon as New Zealand's care and protection system is transformed to become fit for purpose."

New Zealand's four youth justice residences - in south Auckland, Rotorua, Palmerston North and Christchurch - also needed to be abolished, Judge Becroft said. 

"Segregating young people from the mainstream community and aggregating them together in large numbers is not a recipe for enduring rehabilitation. It simply increases the risk of violence, bullying and abuse.

"Given the distressing disproportionality of Māori caught up in the youth justice system, 'By Māori for Māori' approaches to supporting and encouraging new opportunities for rangatahi Māori must be prioritised and pursued.

"It is imperative that these initiatives be innovative, properly resourced, and ensure Māori-led approaches in response to offending behaviour by rangatahi."

Last week, Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni appointed Manukau District Court Judge Frances Eivers as Children's Commissioner. She'll take over from Judge Becroft next month.

"Being Commissioner has been one of the great honours of my life and I'm sure it will be the same for Francie," Judge Becroft said on Friday.

"I look forward to making the most of the 23 days I have left in the role and having the best handover possible."