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Improving Maori Women's Access To Justice

Government Moves To Improve Maori Women's Access To Justice

A report prepared by the Ministry of Women's Affairs will steer government justice sector agencies in their bid to improve Maori women's access to justice, says Women's Affairs Minister Laila Harré.

Released today, the Ministry of Women's Affair's report is based on detailed analysis of two Law Commission reports published in 1999.

Laila Harré says the aim of the project was to create a framework to assist the Ministries of Corrections, Courts, Police and Justice to develop policies and services that better respond to the needs and cultural values of Maori women.

"There has been widespread acceptance of the reports' findings, and each of the key agencies have made a commitment to work towards improving the current situation," she says.

Issues raised include:

 The current system's failure to accommodate Maori customs and values
 Cultural insensitivity
 The lack of Maori personnel in the legal system
 The cost of services
 Access to legal information
 Resourcing and support for existing services

"Each of these agencies has now considered these specific issues and are putting systems and services in place to positively deal with them."

For example, to enhance its support of Maori customs and values the Department for Courts has recently developed a service charter for all courts.

The charter will be implemented in March this year and will be available in English and Maori. One of its key requirements is that staff show respect and cultural sensitivity by taking care to spell and say Maori names correctly.

Laila Harré said such changes are the starting point for a framework that reflects the reality of women's experiences of the justice system.

"Women have significantly different reasons for using legal services than men. Many women experience the justice system as victims, partners, parents and support people of others involved in the system," she says.

1 February 2001
Report on the Ministry of Women's Affairs Women’s Access to Justice project
In 1996 the Law Commission commenced a project titled Women’s Access to Justice. The project was in response to serious concerns among women about the accessibility and operation of our justice system. The project terms of reference required an examination of the response of the justice system to the experiences of women in New Zealand, recognising the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi for Mäori women. A primary aim of the project was to learn about women’s experiences of the justice system from women themselves.

The culmination of this project was a study paper by Joanne Morris OBE titled Women’s Access to Legal Services and a report titled Justice: the Experiences of Mäori Women, Te Tikanga o te Ture: te Mätauranga o ngä Wähine Mäori e pa ana ki tënei both of which were published in 1999.
Women's Access to Legal Services study paper
The Women’s Access to Legal Services study paper focuses on the problems that women have in simply getting the legal services that they need to access the justice system, and why existing services do not accommodate them as they should. To assess how barriers in the justice system operate to disadvantage women, and what may be done to remove them, the study paper provides:
 a summary of what women said about their access to legal services
 a statistical account of the circumstances of women in New Zealand, and
 a description of the legal services available to New Zealanders.

As well as finding out and recording women’s experiences of the justice system, there was a clear intention from the outset to use the lessons learned from the study to bring about improvements in the justice system for women.

The study concludes that there are substantial barriers to the ability of New Zealanders to obtain the legal services they need to invoke the justice system’s protection. The nature of these barriers is such that they adversely affect women in particular.

For each component of legal service provision discussed and examined, the report identifies impediments that it then makes specific recommendations to remedy. The use of a set of principles and a process to promote the just treatment of women by the justice system generally is recommended. As well, 71 specific recommendations were developed to assist government policy and law makers to make changes to the ways in which legal services are currently delivered, to potentially benefit all New Zealanders.
Justice: the Experiences of Mäori Women Law Commission report
Justice: the Experiences of Mäori Women report provides a comprehensive overview of the historical and social context of Mäori women’s lives, and draws links between this context and Mäori women’s experiences and perceptions of the justice system. The report aims to assist New Zealand’s justice institutions to better understand and respond to the needs of Mäori women. It is particularly directed at those justice agencies on which the Crown depends in the performance of its Treaty of Waitangi obligations.

This report does not focus on any particular aspect of the justice system; rather it looks at the justice system as a whole. The report identifies three general principles intended to guide the development of justice sector policy and operations:
 partnership - a co-operative approach with Mäori and agencies working together to achieve best outcomes for Mäori women
 options - Mäori women should be able to access mainstream institutions, Mäori institutions, or both; no presumption that all clients will want to access the same service
 participation – the means by which Mäori women can achieve positive development, including community-based services, better information provision, and more involvement in management directions.

The report states that the access of Mäori women to justice cannot be considered only in the narrow context of services, but that it requires some additional understanding of the extent of their marginalisation in society generally. This marginalisation was seen in the consultations with the women as well as in statistical evidence that demonstrates the disparities between Mäori and non-Mäori women, and between Mäori men and non-Mäori men.

The report also provides background information on the complementary roles of men and women and highlights how Mäori social structures, particularly Mäori family structures and values, are under great stress.

During the consultations Mäori women spoke about the failure of the justice sector to recognise Mäori values, and failure to provide the option of services based on those values and to provide access to the option of services. This failure in turn led to barriers for the women in terms of the costs of services, their access to legal information, and their access to services. Generally, Mäori women perceived the justice sector as treating them with little or no value.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs project
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs initiated discussions with core government justice sector agencies to explore how the future development of justice sector policy and operations might be more responsive to the concerns, needs and cultural values of women, including Mäori women.

To that end, the Ministry drew together key information from the two Law Commission reports (above). As well, the Ministry obtained from the Law Commission a summary of the 48 consultation hui undertaken with Mäori women in 1996. That summary provides valuable insights into Mäori women’s specific experiences and perceptions of the various justice sector institutions. It therefore enabled the Ministry to identify the general themes and issues that related to justice sector agencies, to group together the specific comments by Mäori women relevant to each agency, and to set out a comprehensive list of comments relevant to each agency.

This material was distilled into four individual reports, one for each of:
 The Ministry of Justice
 The Department for Courts
 NZ Police
 The Department of Corrections
and disseminated to these agencies in mid-2000 for their feedback and comment.
Each of the agencies has now examined its operations and processes, to determine how the recommendations and key comments highlighted by the reports might be addressed. All four agencies aim to address the questions raised by the reports and have been able to demonstrate the concrete contributions they have been making and intend to continue making. There has been widespread acceptance by the agencies of the reports’ findings, and a stated commitment to work towards bettering the current situation. There is agreement on the need to become more responsive to Mäori including Mäori women, and also acceptance of the principles proposed by the report (above) of partnership, participation, and developing service options.

The following are just some of the themes and issues identified for particular agencies by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, alongside a small sample of the responses made by the various departments. This is indicative of the flavour of the issues raised, and the progress being made.

 failure to accommodate Mäori customs and values, and cultural insensitivity
Mäori women referred to many examples of unsatisfactory interactions with the justice system that suggest that unsuccessful interpersonal communication was precluded by a lack of acknowledgement of Mäori values and culture.
“The Court processes are insensitive to the needs of Mäori.”
“People don’t seem to understand that our members of our whänau get their support from their whänau. To separate that person is culturally insensitive to the needs of that person. Often the women are left alone with no support in an atmosphere which makes them close up. Our wähine and our täne need that support automatically given to them.”
“…Just hearing their names correctly pronounced means a lot to Mäori people. Their name in a lot of cases is all they have left.”
Family Court clients have the right to bring whänau support with the agreement of the court. The Department for Courts recommends people speak to the local court manager if they are experiencing any difficulties in this area. Also, court advocacy support services are offered in most courts, generally on a voluntary basis.

The Department for Courts has recently developed a service charter for all courts. The charter will be implemented in March 2001 and will be available in English and Mäori. The charter includes as a core service standard the requirement that staff show respect and sensitivity for culture by, among other things, taking care to spell and say names correctly. Training for staff in tikanga and te reo is provided regionally.
Training curricula at the Police College now have a much stronger focus on cultural difference, particularly Mäori language, culture, and Treaty of Waitangi issues. Recruits also undergo a programme in te reo and mihi.
The Department of Corrections has implemented a number of cultural competencies for its staff, including an increased awareness of tikanga and knowledge of te reo, specifically in pronouncing common greetings and phrases and understanding place names. It also has a human resource strategy that includes recruiting staff who are responsive to Mäori values and culture.

 Mäori personnel - Mäori women identified the lack of Mäori personnel in the legal system as a major barrier.
“We need a lot more Mäori people working in the justice system. We can utilise those people to educate Mäori families in those communities about the court system, rather than just a portion of the community like ourselves. The majority of people going through the system are predominantly Mäori and yet there are not enough Mäori people on the other side to service us through the system.”
The percentage of Mäori in the Police has risen from 9.6% in 1994 to 10.8% in 2000. Seventeen percent of recruits in the past two years have acknowledged Mäori ancestry. Apart from the general increase of Mäori in the Police, 33 iwi liaison officers, dedicated to improving responsiveness to Mäori, have been appointed across the 12 districts.

The Department for Courts has a policy of ensuring that its workforce reflects the community. Seventeen percent of the department’s current workforce identifies as being New Zealand Mäori. Particular emphasis is made to recruit Mäori staff for roles working closely with Mäori. For example, recent recruitment for 33 additional Victim Advisors nationwide included a focus on attracting Mäori applicants.

The prison service currently employs approximately 2,800 staff and 640 of these are Mäori. The Department of Corrections is developing recruitment, promotion and staff retention strategies to increase the proportion of Mäori staff both generally and in management positions.

 cost of services
Numerous comments emphasise the significance of cost as a barrier for many Mäori women accessing lawyers and other providers of legal services. In most cases, women are not able to obtain the protections and entitlements they require without some form of legal representation.
Lawyers' fees are too high. If women can't afford their services or are not eligible for legal aid then they will just put up with their problems. Where is the justice in the legal system when lawyers' fees are too much for us to pay? How do we get help?”
“A lot of whänau stay home because they cannot afford a lawyer. The costs of orders, travel, accommodation, childcare are too expensive. Women are putting up with abuse instead…”
“In a rural area, a lawyer is about as high in community need as a good doctor. Those doctors do everything. These lawyers should be from the same beat. They need to have a broad base, but also have a feel for the community. It does come with experience but they have got to have the broad base before they leave school."
Financial eligibility criteria, and the contribution and recovery regimes will be considered in the government’s review of eligibility criteria for legal aid. The provisions of the Legal Services Act 2000 also make clear that the funding of community law centres has priority on the money from the New Zealand Law Society’s Special Fund. As far as the funding permits, the Legal Services Agency will ensure that people with insufficient means to pay for legal services nonetheless have access to them. The Legal Services Act also enables the Agency to pilot the use of salaried lawyers and bulk funding of legal services.

As well, the new regime envisaged for the regulation of the legal profession will provide a disclosure regime, an enhanced complaints and disciplinary regime (which is consistent with the recommendations of Women’s Access to Justice report), and will enable lawyers to practice in a variety of business forms and in association with other professions. These measures will address some of the women’s concerns about lack of lawyer responsiveness.

 access to legal information
We need a law advocate in our town. So when someone has a concern with the police, or with a lawyer or anything - even if they just want advice - we would have someone that people could ring here and who could go to the people to help them out..."
"Most women would either keep their problems to themselves, but if they are lucky they will by chance speak to other women for guidance.”
"In the ‘80s there seemed to be a lot more information in those days than there is today. The information was basic in the form of comic strips, pamphlets and booklets. It worked and it was really effective for our people…”.
The new Legal Services Agency funds 24 Community Law Centres around New Zealand. These centres provide legal advice and assistance to people whether or not they are eligible for legal aid or need legal representation. The centres’ activities cover a wide range of legal issues including consumer matters, tenancy matters, domestic violence, school suspension, and motor vehicle transactions. They play an important educative role, and because the communities that they serve initiate their establishment, are responsive to the needs of those communities. The new Legal Services Agency will also be reviewing its communications as a result of changes in the administration of legal aid.

 resourcing and support for existing services
“We fill in legal aid forms. We tell them how much to put so they get legal aid. We go in with them to their lawyers for communication advice so that they can understand what the lawyers are talking about. What hurts us the most is that we do the work for nothing…”
"I wonder if one of the things that went against AIPP [Abuse Intervention Pilot Programme] was that it was a victim focused agency, it was a women focused agency; that the priority is about the safety and advocacy for women. Even in Women's Refuge, it is almost totally reliant on volunteers to do the work - a very specialised type of area. It seems to be when it comes to women's lives that volunteers can do it. I'm not saying volunteers can't do it, but they do need the constant training to be effective. Yet, we have to have volunteers and no-one will supply us with the funds to help train these people like other organisations."
The review of the eligibility criteria for legal aid will consider whether community groups or other interest groups should be able to obtain legal aid.

The concerns Mäori women raised about Community Law Centres were addressed in the Supplementary Order Paper to the Legal Services Bill, which has now passed into law. The Legal Services Act 2000 provides for the new Legal Services Agency to pilot alternative delivery mechanisms for legal services.
Other measures
As well as responding to specific issues, each department outlined the other measures they are taking which, over time, are expected to improve the access of women to the justice system.
The Ministry of Justice
Most of the recommendations from the Law Commission reports that relate to the Ministry of Justice are being addressed by the government review of eligibility criteria for legal aid and the review of the Law Practitioners Act; the implementation of the Legal Services Act 2000; the Ministerial review of the Guardianship Act 1968; the recent Supplementary Order Paper on the Victims Rights Bill; and the Ministry’s review of policy and practice arising from the evaluations associated with the Domestic Violence Act 1995.
The Department for Courts
Some of the issues raised relate directly to the judiciary and the relevant material has been referred there. In response to other issues, the department compiled a table outlining the initiatives they are currently undertaking that relate to the specific concerns raised in the report. They have also included women’s access to justice issues into their policy work programme for 2000/01.
NZ Police
NZ Police contracted independent consultants to undertake a survey of staff national and district policies and practices relating to the issues raised. These results were compiled into an internal report for dissemination to staff and a number of initiatives are now underway which are expected to address the issues raised. These initiatives relate to Mäori in general, rather than being specifically targeted to Mäori women. However, the spin-off from the more general initiatives is expected to provide positive outcomes for Mäori women.
Department of Corrections
The use of Corrections’ services commences only after sentencing, and therefore has little direct influence on many of the front-end access to justice issues that were raised. However, the department provided information on the initiatives underway that are attempting to deal with many of the underlying concerns and issues expressed by women and Mäori women.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs believes that this project has been a success in terms of focusing government agencies on the issues raised initially by the Law Commission, and on how they intend to address those issues that relate to them, thereby improving the access of New Zealand women to justice services.

The project has had a positive impact on the way the justice sector attempts to become more responsive to the needs and concerns of women in New Zealand.

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