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Commissioner challenges proposed changes

October 14,2004

Children's Commissioner challenges proposed changes to youth justice legislation

Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro warns proposed changes to youth justice legislation are a step in the wrong direction and breach New Zealand¹s international obligations to children and young people.

In a submission to the Social Services Select Committee, which is considering the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Bill (No 4), Dr Kiro said she has grave concerns the bill departs from the spirit and intent of the original Principal Act.

"The original act, which is ground breaking and respected internationally, clearly recognised that youth justice matters should be removed from the adult criminal justice system."

Dr Kiro said clauses in the bill, which allow cases involving 14 year olds to be heard in the District Court, are clearly in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"Attempts to align the youth justice system more closely with the adult criminal justice system are unnecessary and fail to recognise the particular needs of young offenders who are developmentally immature and require care and protection."

Dr Kiro told select committee members she has serious concerns about the rolling over of the provision to allow young people to be remanded to jail cells pending hearing of following breach of bail conditions. She said age-mixing between youth and adult offenders is never in the best interests of the youth offender.

"Extension of this provision is inappropriate and reflects inadequate planning and provision of youth justice facilities"

The submission also called for systems to be put in place to ensure children and their families do not fall through the cracks if community agencies take over less serious cases from the Department of Child Youth and Family. The Office of the Children's Commissioner supports transferring less serious cases to community agencies but warns there must be clear lines of accountability and communication.

Dr Kiro said some child death reviews have highlighted cases where there has been confusion between community agencies and CYF about which organisation was delivering services to a family.

"We also have an acknowledged shortage of social workers so there are major concerns with ensuring quality and capacity of service delivery," she said.

ENDS


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