New research centre to focus on improving Aotearoa New Zealand’s criminal justice system

There have been many calls for changes in the way that justice is delivered in Aotearoa New Zealand, highlighting the need for independent, objective, and trusted information and commentary on our justice system, says Professor Yvette Tinsley from Te Kauhanganui Tātai Ture—Faculty of Law at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

image of the Law Faculty and the Beehive
The Centre for Justice Innovation at Te Kauhanganui Tātai Ture―Faculty of Law

“Any change to our justice system should be supported by impartial and rigorous research, provided by a forum where the collective wisdom and knowledge of experts can be brought to bear on the issues. This is the reason we are launching a new Centre for Justice Innovation. This Centre will provide an independent voice on justice issues, through multidisciplinary research, evaluation, and education,” says Professor Tinsley.

As a criminal justice academic, Professor Tinsley has a special interest in legal policy reform, particularly in improving the experience for participants in the criminal process. Her work has resulted in extensive legal and policy change, particularly in the areas of jury trial practice and sexual violence pre-trial reforms.

The Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation has provided a grant to set up and launch the Centre, which is hosted by the University’s Faculty of Law. There are three co-directors of the Centre, providing academic, judicial, and Māori leadership to guide its work: Professor Tinsley, former Principal Youth Court Judge John Walker, and Everard Halbert (Rongowhakaata, Te Arawa, Ireland, Wales).

The Centre will draw together experience and expertise relevant to innovation in the delivery of justice in Aotearoa New Zealand and apply it to medium and long-term issues that cut across several areas of the justice system.

"The disproportionate statistics show the criminal justice system has not been working for Māori. It will be good to see how the Centre can support efforts to make change,” says Mr Halbert, who is on the Board of Restorative Practices International and a Fellow of the Resolution Institute. He has just begun a new role as director of the University’s employee advisory and resolution service—EARS Te Rauawa. Prior to this, he worked in the private and public sectors in the conflict resolution space including mediation, restorative practice, and Te Pae Oranga (iwi justice panels).

The core of the Centre’s initial research and education work will be innovation in relation to remote participation in the courts.

“Lockdown brought with it some changes to court practices, and there is now a need to assess both our own and international research and experience with remote participation in court proceedings. We need to consider participants’ rights and interests as well as the system’s operational needs, and future opportunities for the use of live video technology in the courts,” says Professor Tinsley.

The co-directors have a range of skills and experience that will serve to underpin the work of the centre.

“We will be working together to offer an independent and trusted voice on not only particular programmes but also the development of innovation in thinking and practice,” says Judge Walker, who has led judicial innovation including the Young Adult lists, and court responses to family violence. He has been involved in judicial education through the Institute of Judicial Studies―Te Kura Kaiwhakawa and studied the interface between courts and health agencies.

On Tuesday 2 May, Chief District Court Judge and 2021 Victoria University of Wellington Distinguished Alumni Award winner Judge Heemi Taumaunu will help launch the Centre with an address about Te Ao Mārama, titled ‘Te Ao Mārama—the vision for the District Court’. Chief Justice, the Rt Hon Dame Helen Winkelmann will also speak at the launch.

“We can’t wait to get started,” says Professor Tinsley.