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Dr Pita R Sharples - TE WHANAU AWHINA

An Indigenous ProgramME for Restorative Justice by the MAORI of NEW ZEALAND
Inaugural Conference of Restorative Practices International
Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
Wednesday 17 October 2007
Dr Pita R Sharples, Member of Parliament for Tamaki Makaurau
Co-Leader of the Maori Party

Tena koutou katoa

I bring with me greetings from Hoani Waititi Marae – A traditional Maori Centre in West Auckland, New Zealand.

It is our pleasure to present to you our restorative justice programme, Te Whanau Awhina, which was developed by the Maori community to address the situation of large numbers of Maori youth appearing before the courts. Developed by Maori for Maori four decades ago – it still remains a Maori model, but now services all races and ethnic groups.


Te Whanau Awhina is a restorative justice programme, which has its origins in traditional Maori society. The processes followed and the etiquette for delivery are drawn directly from the customs of our ancestors which they used in dispute resolution.

Basically, the process involves the calling of hui or meeting to discuss the misdemeanour or crime. Those required to attend include the offender (the perpetrator of the misdemeanour), his family, the family of the victim (and where possible the victim of the incident) and members of Te Whanau Awhina and a community panel assembled specifically for this particular case.

A traditional Maori greeting – exchange mihimihi would begin the occasion and this would be followed by a prayer or Maori karakia. After this comes the formal speeches and enquiry into the misdemeanor – the whaikorero – patapatai. This is lead by the panel of community members specifically selected for the particular circumstances of the event being discussed, and is directed particularly towards the offender.

After this stage, the panel would retire to make a determination whakataunga about the offence. This invariably produces an apology; a programme of habilitation for the offender; and some form of restitution and support for the victim. In addition family or community support groups are established to support the victim on the one hand, but also to support the offender. The evening is completed by some form of supper – cup of tea etc.

It must be emphasised here that the entire etiquette of the proceedings is conducted within contemporary Maori custom, which has a very strict format. A detailed description of what actually happened at the Te Whanau Awhina forum follows below:

In the description of each stage of the event, a set of KAUPAPA (Maori philosophies) are revealed and these are the key principles which underpin the unique form of this restorative justice model.

• Whakahuihui Tangata: Calling the Meeting

The very act of calling the meeting acknowledges the kaupapa of rangatiratanga, the mana and authority of the person and the group. The call to attend, is in itself a recognition of the authority of the family members to be involved in some way in a forum to effect a solution towards resolution or reconciliation in regard to the misdemeanour. The invitation to participate is in itself a mark of respect.

At the meeting Maori speeches are exchanged between the meeting coordinators of Te Whanau Awhina and the invited families of the victim and the offender. These are special speeches, delivered by the elders, according full respect to each and every body present including the offender and the victim. It creates the feeling of equality amongst all present at the gathering and may recount past happenings, individual and group successes in life, as well as acknowledging recent bereavements amongst either of the two groups.

It is a coming together and in Maori cultural terms it is viewed as a home group (tangata whenua) welcoming a visiting group (manuwhiri) and the latter reciprocating. This ceremony is not negotiable. It is absolutely essential to ensure that despite the fact that within the room there may be a multitude of differing views about the event to be discussed, nevertheless, every single person present is important.

2. Karakia: Prayer

The essential kaupapa here is wairuatanga or spirituality. The act of prayer or Maori karakia is recognising the ‘life force’ (mauri) of each person, as well as that of the group as a whole. In particular, it acknowledges the imbalance of the mauri of the people present, which is a direct result of the social disruption and dysfunction caused by the misdemeanour. The karakia begins the process of healing towards restoration of the mauri of each person assembled including both the victim and the offender.

3. Whaikorero: Patapatai – The Enquiry

The enquiry involves a process whereby the community panel – set up by Te Whanau Awhina – give speeches and ask questions of the offender/s with discussion often extending out to family members present. The key kaupapa here is manaakitanga – caring and respecting. Questions posed in manakitanga recognise the vulnerability and hurt of the victim, the guilt and shame of the offender, while also respecting the involvement of the whanau (family) groups present.

Questions about the offence naturally involve all persons present in some emotional commitment. Feelings such as shame, guilt, sorrow, anger, love, fear are voiced openly. It is truly a forum of ‘honesty’, where participants unashamedly are able to express their feelings, their particular viewpoint on the matter in front of the group. It becomes a healing environment.

4. Whakataunga: The Determination - Findings

Following the enquiry the community panel retires to determine their findings upon the matter.

Should guilt not be admitted by the offender then the hearing would end at this point and the matter referred back to the courts. This has never happened to date. The key kaupapa involved in the resolution by the panel is whanaungatanga – family relationships.

The determination then would outline a program of rehabilitation for the offender, particularly designed to suit the nature of the offence. This determination is binding and later ratified by the court. Restitution of some kind, determined again by the panel, would be announced. This is based on the Maori customs of old – utu – ‘revenge’ / ‘payment’.

The recruitment and establishment of family groups of support for both the victim and the offender is an essential part of the process. In cases where family involvement is minor, or hasn’t been possible, thus support groups are formed from within the local community.

Another kaupapa expressed in this whakataunga (settlement) is kotahitanga – unity. The settlement should be all embracing, and serve to build all parties present to be offering ongoing support for the outcome. Through the expressions of remorse by the offender and the subsequent apology, the program of rehabilitation and the restitution, the group is bound to a unified commitment to healing for all.

The hearing ends with a hakari or cup of tea or supper. This provides a very important forum for the various groups to talk to each other informally about the process, but also about the findings. It is specifically a ‘wind-down’ situation, designed to allow persons to retire from whatever antagonistic or defensive role they might have taken during the hearing and to bond in the cause of reconciliation.


This model of Te Whanau Awhina is one of the oldest contemporary models of restorative justice in New Zealand. It was established in 1970 by Maori welfare community volunteers. It began as a community group providing a forum for dispute resolution at the local high school in Te Atatu North – an Auckland suburb. It handled many cases locally without the necessity of police involvement. Victims were offered the choice of referring incidents to the police or attending our hearing. Offenders were offered the same choice.

The success of the process came to the notice of the police and soon after they began referring cases to Te Whanau Awhina to handle in lieu of prosecuting them. This had a spectacular effect on court prosecutions of West Auckland youth – the numbers dropped dramatically. Taking cognisance of this relative success the courts in turn began referring cases to Te Whanau Awhina.

Judge Michael Brown, former Judge of the West Auckland Court took a helpful interest in the Te Whanau Awhina operations. He began referring a range of offences and offenders to our programme – children, young persons, adults, career criminals and the like. Te Whanau Awhina was honoured when Judge Brown was selected to propose a dispute resolution process for children and young person offenders.

The honour was in his proposal to establish Family Group Conferencing – a programme which included many of the features drawn from his experience with Te Whanau Awhina. Family Group Conferencing, then, was introduced into the Children and Young Persons court options in New Zealand and later into the Australian Courts. In June this year, an honour was accorded to the New Zealand Ambassador in United States of America, for New Zealand’s pioneering contribution to the Family Group Conferencing initiative.

The connection between family group conferencing in the courts of the world, and the kaupapa operating in Te Whanau Awhina is deliberately made here. It is not made in order to claim responsibility for such programmes in our courts today, but rather to declare to the world that tradition-based indigenous programs can be, and are, relevant today – and that there are many knowledges, which could be contributing to the progress of peace and justice in the world.

In the early decades of the 70s and 80s Te Whanau Awhina’s (then called the Te Atatu Tribunal) operations were entirely voluntary. Community members gave up their time for hearings, for meetings and for rehabilitation programme supervision. In addition a volunteer court worker represented the group’s submissions in the court.

Since the 90s the program has received financial support from a series of government agencies including the Departments of: Courts, Crime Prevention Unit, Prime Minister, Police, Justice and Corrections.

Today Te Whanau Awhina is resourced by the Crime Prevention Unit of Government. It employs a part-time Chairperson (responsible for Protocols and Chairmanship of Hearings); a full-time Project Coordinator, who arranges all hearings, gathers all information, meets with the offender, the victim, and with judges, lawyers etc and records the business of each case and attends the District Court sessions as the programme’s spokesperson, as well as all of Te Whanau Awhina’s Hearings.

In addition a sitting fee is now provided to the community panelists, who participate in the hearings.


• Te Whanau Awhina have closed 63 cases since March 2007;
• Te Whanau Awhina currently has 56 active cases;
• The Coordinator attended the restorative justice Hui held by Restorative Justice Aotearoa in August this year;
• The program is currently piloting a role for a separate victim support Coordinator – to be reviewed after 1 year;
• Currently holding 4 - 6 Te Whanau Awhina hearings each week and receiving the same amount of referrals from the courts on a weekly basis;
• Currently recruiting a greater variety of community panel members;
• Have student placements with the program from various Auckland Universities to complete part of the requirements for Social Science diplomas and degrees.


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