Contents 2 Introduction: a fair go for all? 5



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Structural Discrimination in the Justice System


In this section, we discuss manifestations of structural discrimination in the justice system. Our specific focus is the criminal justice system, although we acknowledge that the justice system is not solely reducible to criminal justice.148 In developing this section we have considered three aspects of the criminal justice system: policing; courts; and correctional facilities and rehabilitation.

Often cited is the ‘fact’ that Māori – and, to a lesser extent, Pacific peoples – are over-represented in the criminal justice system. It is important, however, to place this in context. It is younger people who are more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system, and both the Māori and Pacific Island populations in New Zealand have a younger age distribution than the population as a whole.149

Nonetheless, information gathered suggests that there are two forms of structural discrimination that exist within the justice system in New Zealand. The first relates to the nature of the system. That is, the values the system is based upon, a lack of engagement with Māori and Pacific people in project design and implementation and a lack of cultural sensitivity. The second relates to practice within the system. There is evidence of bias at different points throughout the system from apprehensions to sentencing, which notably contributes to the higher rates of Māori and Pacific imprisonment. Manifestations of these forms of structural discrimination are discussed further below.

Values underpinning the criminal justice system

Initially founded on the British model, New Zealand’s justice system is based on perpetrators taking individual responsibility for their crime. Until recently the system has not incorporated Māori and Pacific frameworks of justice that take into account a greater sense of whānau and community responsibility and involvement in the justice process.

In tikanga Māori, a collective group is identified as the victim and a collective group is responsible as the offender. This comes in part from the collective nature of traditional Māori society. The whānau, hapū and iwi of the victim and offender are also affected by offending as it diminishes the victim and offenders’ ability to contribute to the collective. Because offending has such a community-wide impact, the community as a whole is involved in the justice process.150

Pacific conceptions of justice are similarly relationship-based. Pacific definitions take as their starting point the state of wellbeing. Pacific researchers tell us that for a Pacific person, wellbeing exists when their relationships with their environment, their God and other people are in a state of mental, physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual balance. Violation against other people, and in particular family members, is viewed as a significant breach of these sacred relationships and thus of wellbeing. Where violence breaches relationships, most Pacific communities will try to re-establish the disrupted relationships and restore balance. Punitive measures are considered only within thecontext of the holistic healing of the network of relationships affected by the breaches.151 The aiga/fanau or traditional Pacific family unit is responsible for the welfare and wellbeing of its members.152 Practices such as the Samoan ifoga – the traditional practice of seeking forgiveness and rendering a formal apology – could be one way in which the family or community seeks to restore damaged relationships.153

In a paper on Māori-based justice, Marie Dyhrberg reflects on her experience as a barrister in South Auckland, where about 90 per cent of her clients were Māori or Pacific people. Dyhrberg comments:

The New Zealand criminal justice system, as an example of the adversarial system is, by nature, antithetical to the traditional approach as practised in the Marae. It is my opinion that the maintenance of law and order generally may be better achieved by adopting a system based on Maori and Pacific Islander principles of conflict resolution which welcomes and provides for a greater sense of community involvement and responsibility in the justice process.154

The lack of Māori and Pacific principles of conflict resolution perhaps stem from a failure by the justice system to value these principles. In one of the case-studies that follows this systemic analysis we discuss initiatives that seek to incorporate Māori and Pacific principles of conflict resolution into the justice system, such as Rangatahi Courts and Pasifika Youth Courts. The importance of incorporating ethnically-diverse values in a genuine and comprehensive way is also discussed further in the public service section of this paper.

Some researchers have, however, criticised a “pick and choose” approach that incorporates some indigenous justice processes so long as they fit within the dominant justice ordering. They have instead called for a justice system-wide recognition of Māori values. In a 1995 paper, family group conferencing process was praised as an example of blending indigenous justice processes and the Western justice system.155 Others, however, view it as an inadequate solution to systemic issues of structural discrimination. Moana Jackson argues that:

Justice for Māori does not mean the attempted grafting of Māori processes upon a system that retains the authority to determine the extent, applicability, and validity of the processes. No matter how well intentioned and sincere such efforts, it is respectfully suggested that they will merely maintain the co-option and redefinition of Māori values and authorities which underpins so much of the colonial will to control.156

In order to address some of the core issues of structural discrimination in the justice system, changes in dominant culture systems and practices need to be made. While an important start, adding on cultural elements to a dominant system does not change the fundamental inequalities that give rise to disparities within the justice system. There also needs to be a shift in values to recognise the need for and the potential of locally-designed, developed and delivered programmes, such as programmes by Māori for Māori.157


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