Inquiry into justice system's impact on Māori begins at Waitangi Tribunal

A wide-ranging review of how the justice system has impacted Māori has begun at the Waitangi Tribunal.

The Te Rau o te Tika: Justice Inquiry will cover everything from institutional racism and bias, to discrimination against Māori in the justice system.

But claimants presenting evidence this week said access to funding is one of the biggest barriers to even taking part in this enquiry.

The justice inquiry kicks off with a look at funding and many said they have struggled for years to engage with the Waitangi Tribunal because they just didn't have enough money.

"Did we as claimants have any meaningful input into our claims and for fair funding to participate in the Waitangi Tribunal? The answer is no," said Ngāti Hine leader Pita Tipene.

Other claimants said funding such as legal aid has also been an issue in various court systems.

"Sometimes without our legal counsel it makes it very difficult for claims to come and be heard," said Marise Lant from Annette Sykes & Co Ltd.

Independent consultant Te Ringahuia Hata gave evidence of claimants just struggling to keep up.

"One law firm where an invoice has been outstanding for one year and two months."

She said the barriers to accessing justice are hugely hindered by a lack of funding from the Crown.

"Either it's capped, either it's not enough, either it gets trickled down in bureaucracy and where claimants are left out of pocket."

It's not just the Ministry of Justice under scrutiny, but also Police and Corrections, with Māori only being 16 percent of the population, yet half of all men and 65 percent of all women in prison are Māori.

Māori are also five times more likely to be convicted and charged than Pākehā for the same offence.

The tribunal has identified 61 current claims that raise grievances with the justice system, all eligible to participate. This includes a claim regarding the 2007 Urewera raids, several legal aid claims, one on police Armed Response Teams, and several claims regarding Waikeria Prison.

Justice Minister Kiri Allan said she is aware of the inquiry beginning into the Government’s provision of claimant funding and legal aid in kaupapa and contemporary inquiries.

"I understand that claimants have begun their opening statements today, including expressing concern that a lack of a clear and transparent claimant funding regime to cover costs to attend hearings has impacted on their ability to access justice through the Waitangi Tribunal, and that issues such as support for translation/interpretation into Te Reo, legal aid, and enabling access to claimants with disabilities and support people are also being discussed," she said.

"The Ministry of Justice and other agencies involved in kaupapa claims have worked with Crown Law in preparation for this hearing. Officials will be listening carefully to the evidence given by claimants and expert witnesses.

"On the broader Wai 3060 claim, the justice sector Kaupapa Inquiry is an opportunity to hear directly from Waitangi Tribunal claimants with grievances concerning the justice system."

Allan added that the inquiry will allow the Ministry of Justice and other agencies to be better positioned to address current and past issues and to continue the Government's commitment to achieve better outcomes for Māori.

"As Justice Minister, I will lead the Government response to the Inquiry and I am very interested in the outcomes."

Inquiry into justice system's impact on Māori begins at Waitangi Tribunal