Chief District Court Judge announces new model for District Court

Thu 10 Dec 2020

Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu announced a new model for the District Court: Te Ao Mārama. It will be launched in 2021 with the new Alcohol and other Drug Treatment (AODT) Court in Hamilton, which will incorporate a new stream for care and protection proceedings. 

Judge Taumaunu introduced the model in giving the Norris Ward McKinnon lecture in November 2020. Judge Taumaunu said the Te Ao Mārama model is the District Court's response to calls for transformative change. He said that Te Ao Mārama means the 'world of light' or the 'enlightened world.' He said:

"I suggest that the calls for transformative change as they relate to the District Court could be translated as a concerted call to move towards a more enlightened world, to move towards te ao mārama, not just for Māori, but for all people of all ethnicities and from all cultures who are affected by the business of our court. This is because, modern day Aotearoa New Zealand is a multi-cultural and vibrant society with two founding cultures bound together by the principle of partnership based on the Treaty of Waitangi. In modern thinking, the vision of hope that is expressed in the Treaty relationship now extends to include all Māori and non-Māori New Zealanders regardless of culture or ethnicity. Hence the all-inclusive nature of the vision for the District Court as a place where all people can come to seek justice, no matter what their means or ability and regardless of their ethnicity or culture, who they are or where they are from.

The District Court response to the calls for transformative change will be known as the 'Te Ao Mārama model'. Inspired by a simple idea; in essence, the Te Ao Mārama model signals a deliberate intention on the part of the District Court to move 'towards a more enlightened world' for the benefit of all people of all ethnicities and cultures who are affected by the business of our court.

This vision and move by the District Court will, of course, still mean that offenders will be held accountable and responsible, that the Sentencing Act 2002 will continue to be applied, and that principled and lawful sentences, including imprisonment, are imposed. But we hope that this occur in an environment where more well-informed decisions can be consistently made, based on better information, with better informed participants, and better understood processes."

In his address, Chief Judge Taumaunu highlighted that the four decades of calls for transformative change to the criminal justice system have "largely been left unanswered." He said "The underlying message is that our courts are failing to understand or protect those who appear before it or who are affected by the business of the court."

He highlighted the punitive focus of the criminal justice system, the disconnect from tikanga, the lack of involvement of whānau and victims in criminal proceedings, the lack of support and protection for victims, and increasing delays in criminal trials. 

The Te Ao Mārama model will build on practices developed in specialist courts including:

  • Infusing te reo and tikanga Māori
  • Improving information available to judges
  • Active and involved judging
  • Toning down formalities
  • Community involvement
  • Interagency coordination
  • Focus on addressing drivers
  • Consistency of personnel.

The model will be designed in partnership with iwi and local communities. This partnership is intended to allow courts to be designed to fit the specific needs of each community. It is not a one-size-fits all approach. 

The Te Ao Mārama model will be rolled out in Hamilton in 2021. Part of the new model for this Court will be to add a care and protection stream from the Family Court jurisdiction. The Care and Protection Alcohol and other Drug Treatment (AODT) stream will focus on young mothers with addictions who have or are at risk of having a child removed from their care, and as a result have come to the attention of the Family Court. Judge Taumaunu said "It is envisioned that the Care and Protection Stream of the AODT Court should enable mothers to retain care of their children, with the wraparound support that is required to ensure this is plausible."

Principal Family Court Judge Jacquelyn Moran has released a statement about the new AODT Court care and protection stream saying:

“The Care and Protection AODT stream also provides an alternative type of intervention at a time the Family Court is forging new community partnerships for retaining whānau, hapū and iwi connections and building confidence in achieving the safe return of vulnerable babies and children to their whānau, and averting the need to separate them in the first place.”

For a brief summary about the Te Ao Mārama model see the Statement from the Chief District Court Judge.

Related news

Te Korimako Legal Education has developed a series of 13 videos to explain parts of the law relating to Oranga Tamariki - Ministry for Children, family violence and care of children. The short videos cover a range of topics and can be viewed for free on the Te Korimako Facebook page. Te Korimako is an initiative to train and educate Iwi and Māori social service providers to assist whānau who come to the attention of Oranga Tamariki to navigate the care and protection process, including in the Family Court.

Media outlet Newsroom has reported on the Government's work to develop "adverse incident" learning systems to inform criminal justice reform. The purpose of this system would be to review and respond to criminal justice "adverse events" (or cases) focusing on interagency or system-wide issues. Journalist Laura Walters cites Cabinet briefing papers released through an Official Information Act request which provide further detail.

Related media

Chief District Court Judge For New Zealand Te Kaiwhakawā Matua O Te Kōti-ā-rohe, Press Release: Office of the Chief District Court Judge, Scoop, 24.05.2021

Update on Te Ao Mārama, NZ Law Society News, 18.02.2021

Vision of a new district court where everyone's words are heard, Stuff, 18.01.2021

District Court Judges appointed to ease post lockdown caseload, Beehive press release, 16.12.2020

District Court overhaul: Hope for victims, offenders, Newsroom, 16.11.2020

Chief District Court Judge announces new approach to how district courts operate, RNZ, 12.11.2020

Raft of changes announced by chief judge for nation's district courts, Stuff, 12.11.2020

Whaea Michelle, navigator of the Family Violence Court, The Spinoff, 24.11.2020

Image: Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

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