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Launch Of The Court Education - Robson Speech

Hon Matt Robson Speech Notes

Launch Of The Court Education For Young Witnesses Service

Te whare tu mai nei, tena koe

E nga mate huhua.
Moe wairua, moe marie nui.
Otia te po, nau mai te ao.

Ki nga kai arahi o te ture, tena koutou
E nga rangatira me nga iwi,
Nga moka e wha
Tena koutou

Na reira, tatou nei katoa
Me hui tahi tatou e tautokohia ana te kaupapa o te ra nei,
E mihi ana, e mihi ana, e mihi ana

Members of the Judiciary, members of the legal profession, departmental and agency officials, court staff and managers, honoured guests.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which we ratified in 1993, says “in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be of primary consideration.”

The criminal court environment can be intimidating for many. Some suggest it is designed to be intimidating. The courtroom is large and austere. The judge is elevated on the bench. There are lots of people in suits and uniforms. They speak in terms unknown to most people. Procedures and formality rule the day. Little is familiar.

For young people, and for children in particular, who come to give evidence, the court is frightening.

We have recognised this and therefore screens are provided to avoid eye contact with other parties. Closed circuit television allows evidence to be presented from a remote location within the courthouse. Skilled professionals support the process.

Up to 4,000 children and youth give evidence in this unnatural environment each year.

Research shows that child victims and witnesses understand very little about the court process. They will often have unnecessary fears. In addition, there are concerns about the quality of evidence provided by child witnesses and the potential for consequential unsafe convictions.

We know that the provision of educational material decreases stress on children and young people and increases the accuracy and credibility of their testimony.

Recognising this need, the Labour Alliance Government has funded the development of specialist educational tools for children and young people presenting evidence to the criminal courts.

While Courts Victim Advisers are already frequently involved with children who must come to courts as witnesses, there are few specialised resources or training available for them.

And until now, no one agency has held responsibility for educating child or young witnesses and as a result children, they and their caregivers sometimes receive inconsistent and inappropriate services.

The objective of the new Court Education for Young Witnesses Service is to ensure that children and young people are better supported when giving evidence.

A key aspect of the new service is the provision of educational materials. An existing booklet - "What Happens Next?" - has been revised. A new booklet for older children, “Let’s Talk Court”, has been developed along with an innovative activity booklet, “Court Wise”, that covers both age groups. There are pamphlets to support caregivers and siblings for when there is a guilty plea and a trial does not proceed, and for young witnesses of serious violence. Maori, Samoan and Tongan translations are also being produced.

Some of the skilled and talented writers and illustrators of this exceptional material are here today.

The new service will initially be piloted in three court areas - Whangarei District and High Courts, Manukau District Court -and the cases that proceed from there to the Auckland High Court - and the Christchurch District and High Courts. Selection of the sites took into account a variety of factors such as cultural, the numbers of child witnesses, and geography.

Department for Courts Victim Advisers will deliver, or facilitate the delivery of the service, which is in many ways an extension of their existing role with children in court.

The service is optional, and can be declined by the witness or the caregiver.

Because the service is intended for child witnesses it will be delivered close to the time for the scheduled hearing. Up until that time, child victims or their representative are kept informed about the progress of their case.

In general terms, the new education service will be delivered in three stages. First, the material will be provided as a package and taken away, so that the supporting parent or caregiver can go through together with the child or young person at home. Second, the witness will be familiarised with the court itself and what will happen. Third, the service will provide information and answer any issues or queries.

After the hearing, the child witness and caregivers can access a specialist debriefing session.

While the Department for Courts is managing the new service, its development has been assisted by key agencies - the Police, the New Zealand Law Society, Crown Law, the Department of Child Youth and Family, Te Puni Kokiri, the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, the Ministry of Justice and the Commissioner for Children.

An Auckland based Advisory Group comprising child practitioners has been involved in much of the development work, as has the Judiciary by providing expert advice on the content of the materials.

Victim Advisors at the three pilot sites will hold community forums for local practitioners, specialists and agency people.

The active support of other agencies in and around the court will be essential.

There will be a rigorous evaluation of the new service in the pilot courts to assist the national implementation in the 2002/2003 year.

It gives me great pleasure to officially launch the Court Education for Young Witnesses Service.

Kaati, na reira koutou katoa ma
Pai marire

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