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Specialist courts

Overview

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

Specialist 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 of these courts 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 jail. The aim is to reduce your reoffending by treating the causes of offending – your alcohol and drug use or addiction – and so reduce the use of jail 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 are excluded.

You must have pleaded guilty or accepted responsibility for your offending to enter these courts. This is a voluntary court, so you can withdraw from it 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 and family group conferences

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

If you admit your guilt, there will be Family Group Conference (young person, family or whanau, youth advocate, victim, youth justice coordinator, police, social workers, other specialist agencies) 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 may not be reported.

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. 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 have take responsibility for the incident. These courts are not open to the general public.

Family violence courts

Some District Courts schedule block sittings of family violence cases 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.

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 over unacceptable questions by defence lawyers. 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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