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Specialist Courts


There are some specialist courts that deal with specific types of offending or circumstances. Some of these only operate in certain locations. They offer a wider range of outcomes.

Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts

These courts began on a test basis in Auckland and Waitakere and have now been made permanent. In December 2019 the government announced that another court would be set up in Hamilton. There is also a Therapeutic Court operating in Wellington.

The Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts are designed for defendants whose offending is caused by high needs issues like addiction or dependency and who would otherwise be sent to prison. The aim is to reduce reoffending by treating the causes of offending – alcohol and drug use or addiction – and so reduce the use of prison sentences.

This court is for less serious offending (and not for sexual offences) where you have pleaded guilty. It is up to the judge to decide whether you can go through this court. Sentencing is put off while you go through a programme of case management, treatment, drug testing, monitoring and mentoring. You must comply with bail conditions and might have to wear an alcohol-monitoring bracelet.

Police, lawyers and case managers will work as a team to help the judge make decisions. The police role is mainly focussed on community safety. These courts include the role of Pou Oranga – peer support workers with lived experience of recovery, treatment and knowledge of te reo Māori and tikanga Māori. The victim may be involved with a Restorative Justice process.

The whole programme may take 1-2 years to complete. Once you’ve been through treatment you will be sentenced. If you have successfully completed the programme you will usually be sentenced to 12-15 months intensive supervision.

Special courts for homeless people

The Special Circumstances Court (Wellington) and New Beginnings Court (Auckland) are courts set up for homeless people. The aim is to help you deal with the social and health issues in your life that contribute to your offending and get your life back on track. Serious drug, serious violence offences and sexual offences cannot go through these courts.

You must have pleaded guilty or accepted responsibility for your offending to enter these courts. This is a voluntary court, so you can withdraw and return to the usual court system at any stage. The court process brings a number of agencies together to help with the causes of both your homelessness and your offending. You will be assigned a community worker who will develop a rehabilitation plan. The plan is presented to the court and monitored frequently.

Youth Court

Youth Court is for criminal offending by children and young people aged 14-17 that is too serious to be dealt with by the police in the community (but not for murder or manslaughter), and sometimes for young people aged 12 and 13 if the offending is especially serious.

If you plead guilty, there will be Family Group Conference to make a plan for how you can take responsibility for what you did and make sure you don’t offend again. If you complete the plan, the judge has a number of options available. For serious offending, you may be placed in custody in a youth justice residence or transferred to the District Court for sentence.

Usually Youth Court is not open to the public (except for media). You must wait outside until your case is called. Media can only report with the judge’s permission. Your name or other identifying details can’t be reported.

What are the Rangatahi Courts and Pasifika Courts?

These courts are a special type of Youth Court designed to help Māori and Pasifika youth engage in the youth justice process and reconnect with their cultural identities by involving whānau and community in that process.

The Rangatahi Court is held on marae and follows tikanga Māori processes. Kaumātua are heavily involved in supporting and holding young people to account.

The Pasifika Court is held in Pasifika churches and community centres with assistance from Pasifika elders. To access these courts you must take responsibility for the incident. These courts are not open to the general public.

What are the Family Violence Courts?

Some District Courts schedule family violence cases to be heard in court together so the relevant social services, support and programmes are all on hand to connect with families. The court works closely with agencies like Women’s Refuge and Stopping Violence programme providers.

What are the Sexual Violence Courts?

This pilot court for sexual violence cases in Auckland and Whangarei was made permanent in August 2019 after a study found it reduced waiting times for trial significantly. The court provides secure waiting areas for victims and the judges intervene more when defence lawyers ask unacceptable questions. There are also rules allowing child witnesses to give their evidence early in the day. The intensive case management has resulted in more and earlier guilty pleas.

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The criminal courts

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Access the free “Lag Law: Your Rights Inside Prison and on Remand” book. This book answers heaps of common questions you might have if you’re going to prison, in prison, or getting out of prison.

Online: communitylaw.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Lag-Law-text-2021-1.pdf
Email for a hard copy: publications@wclc.org.nz
Phone: Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley – 04 499 2928

Ministry of Justice

The Ministry of Justice provides useful information about court procedure for criminal matters.

Website: www.justice.govt.nz/courts/criminal

Paying your fines

You can learn about, check or pay your fines (infringement and court-imposed) by phone or online. Unpaid fines can stop you leaving New Zealand – use Ministry of Justice’s fine checks form to find out if you have outstanding debt.

Website: www.justice.govt.nz/fines
Phone: 0800 4 FINES (0800 434 637)

Fine checks form: www.justice.govt.nz/fines/find-out-if-you-have-a-fine-or-check-your-balance-online/fines-check-form

Department of Corrections

The Department of Corrections website has helpful information for offenders and their whānau. It provides insight into the procedure before sentencing, while in prison and on parole.

Website: www.corrections.govt.nz

Restorative Practices Aotearoa

Restorative Practices Aotearoa provides information on when restorative justice may be appropriate, and where in New Zealand it is available.

Website: www.restorativejusticeaotearoa.org.nz
Email: admin@rpa.org.nz
Phone: 0800 RJA INC (0800 752 462)

Information for victims

Victims Information

Victims Information provides help to victims of crime, their whānau or friends to deal with the practical and emotional effects of a crime. It also provides information to help victims understand the legal and court process.

Website: www.victimsinfo.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 650 654

Manaaki Tāngata – Victim Support

Victim Support provides a free, nationwide support service for people affected by crime, trauma, and suicide in New Zealand. They help clients to find safety, healing, and justice after crime and other traumatic events.

Website: www.victimsupport.org.nz
Phone: 0800 VICTIM (0800 842 846)

Victim notifications register

Victim notification gives victims of serious crime, who are registered on the victim notification register, a way to stay informed about the person who offended against them.

Website: www.corrections.govt.nz/information_for_victims/victim_notification_register

Also available as a book

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