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 most 17 year olds up until their 18th birthday. This change has applied since 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, whānau, hapū, iwi and family groups.

There are four primary considerations for matters relating to the Youth Court:

  • the well-being and best interests of the child or young person; and
  • the public interest (which includes public safety); and
  • the interests of any victim; and
  • the accountability of the child or young person for their behaviour.

General principles under s 5 OTA provide that wherever possible family and whānau 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.

Youth justice principles under s 208 OTA guide decision-making.

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. Section 5(1)(b)(i) says that the child or young person's rights under this Convention must be respected and upheld.

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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