Youth justice principles and processes

Read about the history of youth justice and the principles that guide the youth justice system.

Youth justice in New Zealand

The Youth Court is governed by the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989.

However, recognition of ‘children’s rights’, and the roots of youth offending being addressed in a separate manner to adults have been around for significantly longer.

  • The Juvenile Offenders Act 1906 adapted the existing criminal law for the purposes of young offenders. This was closely aligned with the legislation in England at the time.
  • In 1925, the Child Welfare Act had different objectives, notably to recognise that offending youth were youth in need of State assistance, and it established a separate ‘Children’s Court’.
  • A new paradigm was initiated in 1974, with the Children and Young Persons Act 1974. This was a hybrid of ‘welfare’ and ‘justice’-based approaches to offending by children and young people. Merely a decade after its enactment, further plans for reform of the law commenced.
  • The result was the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989 (CYPF Act). The characteristics of the ‘New Zealand model’, acclaimed internationally at the time, are diversion, community-based sanctions, family decision-making and cultural flexibility.
  • On 13 July 2017, the Children Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Act came into force. This renamed the governing act to the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, as it is now known.

The Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 has a number of important changes, including the extension of Youth Court Jurisdiction to include 17 year olds up until their 18th birthday. This change will apply from 01 July 2019.

Youth justice principles

The object of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 is to promote the well-being of children, young persons and their families and family groups.

Section 4(f) of the Act sets out the objective most relevant for the youth justice system. It states that where young persons commit offences, they are to be ‘held accountable, and encouraged to accept responsibility, for their behaviour’, and ‘dealt with in a way that acknowledges their needs and that will give them the opportunity to develop in responsible, beneficial and socially acceptable ways.’

General principles under s 5 provide that wherever possible family and whanau should be involved in decisions affecting the child or young person, and that those relationships should be maintained and strengthened, and that timeliness is important.

International obligations and Treaties

New Zealand is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. New Zealand ratified this in 1993.

The ‘Beijing Rules’ (officially the ‘UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice’) is a non-legally binding treaty which recommends minimum standards for national youth justice systems.

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