Launching a new waka: The Centre for Justice Innovation

Te Kauhanganui Tātai Ture―Faculty of Law was proud to launch the Centre for Justice Innovation last week with a public lecture by keynote speaker, Chief Judge Heemi Taumaunu, on Te Ao Mārama—the vision for the District Court.

distinguished guests in attendance to the launch of the Centre for Justice Innovation standing in the staircase of the Faculty of Law Wellington
Distinguished guests, speakers and co-directors gathered for the launch of the Centre for Justice Innovation at the Faculty of Law, Te Herenga Waka–Victoria University of Wellington.

The lecture, which was delivered to a crowded auditorium made up of guests from across the legal profession, government, faculty, and students, marked the first of three public lectures to launch the Centre in 2023.

Hosted by the Faculty of Law, and with support from the Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation, the Centre will offer an independent, impartial, and trusted voice on justice issues through multidisciplinary research, evaluation, and education. The Centre’s three co-directors— Professor Yvette Tinsley, former Principal Youth Court Judge John Walker, and resolution and tikanga guide, Everard Halbert— will provide academic, judicial, and Māori leadership to guide its work.

Judge Walker welcomed distinguished guests and thanked both the Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation and law faculty for their support in “providing a home” for the centre. He also acknowledged Dr Nessa Lynch for her early work in formulating the scope of the project and Professor Yvette Tinsley for “taking the idea and making it a reality.”

Judge Walker said the new Centre was a place where innovative approaches to the justice system would arise from the coming together of diverse areas of expertise. He said, “the judicially led innovations that I have been involved in could never have come to fruition without the engagement of psychologists, forensic speech language therapists, forensic mental health professionals, lawyers, the engagement with iwi and the wider communities served by our courts.”

In his lecture, Chief Judge Taumaunu explained that the Te Ao Mārama principles were borne out of repeated calls for change in the criminal justice system, where Māori men and women are consistently overrepresented.
He told the audience that the cycle began early, with statistics showing that any child who had transitioned from state care to youth court was fifteen times more likely to go on to offend and one hundred and seven times more likely to be imprisoned before the age of 21.

“Te Ao Mārama,” said Chief Judge Taumaunu, “is intended to promote principles of restoration, healing and enhanced community wellbeing in order to better connect courts to the communities they serve.” He stressed that Te Ao Mārama was developed within existing legislative frameworks and designed for all people, not solely for the benefit for Māori, but that in some instances, there were courts where users were predominantly Māori.

Te Ao Mārama, he explained, would draw upon proven best-practice approaches from the specialist and therapeutic courts, such as using plain language proceedings or alternative court layouts. Innovative solutions, such as facilitating the participation of a defendant’s community in the sentencing process, and therapeutic models, such as pre-sentence plans or cultural background reports where relevant, could be incorporated into mainstream courts.

In his closing remarks, Judge Taumaunu Invited attendees to imagine walking into a fully functioning Te Ao Mārama district court in New Zealand in the year 2040, the year marking the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

With only 17 years to make this a reality, Judge Taumaunu hoped judges would bring these ideas and practices into the mainstream operation of the courts, and that Faculty of Law academics would critically analyse the developments of Te Ao Mārama to prepare students for the community-connected and solutions- focused courts of the future.

Chief Judge Taumaunu congratulated all those involved in the creation of the Justice Innovation Centre, saying it was a timely initiative that was “well placed to design and provide resources and programmes that educate students, counsel and other stakeholders in all aspects of solution-focused judging.”

Among those present to celebrate the launch of the Centre for Justice Innovation were the Chief Justice the Right Honourable Dame Helen Winkelmann, the Attorney General, the Hon. David Parker, the Secretary for Justice, Andrew Kibblewhite, and Principal Youth Court Judge, Ida Malosi.

“Tonight’s launch was an opportunity to bring people together to have a conversation about criminal justice,” said Professor Yvette Tinsley, who detailed the centre’s next steps, including initial research and education work focusing on innovations in relation to remote participation in the courts and Te Ao Mārama initiatives.

Mr Everard Halbert brought the event to a close with a karakia, thanking guests for helping to “launch a new waka.”

Two further events will mark the launch of the Centre this year. A panel discussion in August will discuss research on aspects of innovations in sexual violence reform, and a public lecture in September will report on a project dealing with wellbeing, vicarious trauma, and emotional labour in the criminal courts.

Visit the Centre for Justice Innovation website for more information about future projects and events.

View the event recording here.