Community panel for low-level offenders

In Legal Lines, January 20216 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineFebruary 5, 2021

Te Pae Oranga is the new name for the Iwi Community Panels that were launched in 2010 to reduce the load on the court system and prevent minor offending leading to serious crime and imprisonment. It is an alternative to prosecution for low-level offending and is run by the police. Rather than sending someone to court, they can refer them to a local panel of community members instead. The aim of the panel is to make offenders accountable and address reasons they offended.

The panel‘s focus
The focus is on putting right the harm done to victims and supporting participants to change their behaviour rather than punishing them. Support can include upskilling participants by offering training, assisting with driver licensing training, referrals to health, social or budgeting services, helping them to get into long-term employment, and finding ways to change their mindsets so they can re-engage with their communities. While Te Pae Oranga follows Maori cultural practice and protocol, it is available to participants of any ethnicity.

Referral criteria
When police refer someone to Te Pae Oranga, police are using their discretion not to prosecute, in a similar way to deciding to issue a warning. It is open to participants aged 17 years and over who have committed a low-level offence, and admit responsibility for that offence. Police must establish there is evidential sufficiency to charge and consider whether or not it‘s in the public interest to prosecute. Police must also consider the person‘s prior offending, current offending, and victim opinions. It works well when an underlying cause of the offending can be identified and addressed, such as disengagement from education, or drug and alcohol misuse. Participants are given an opportunity to tell their story, put things right by completing agreed actions to make up for the harm done, and connect with the services and support they need to address the underlying causes of the offending. A whanau or support person can be present when they appear in front of the panel, but they cannot have their lawyer present.

How it works
There is a huinga o mua (pre-panel meeting), hui matua (panel meeting) and huinga o muri (follow-up). The purpose of the huinga o mua is to prepare everyone for the hui matua. It involves a face-to-face meeting between the participant and the kaikawe korero (facilitator). If there‘s a victim, the kaikawe korero also meets separately with them. The kaikawe korero discusses the offence, the impact of the offence on the victim, and what the needs of the participant are. A risk assessment is completed and it will be decided whether to proceed to the hui matua. If the result of the risk assessment is that the hui matua should not go ahead, then the kaikawe korero will notify the police, who can then decide whether to proceed with charges in court. The purpose of the hui matua is to agree actions that the participant will take. It allows plenty of time for discussion to help the participant look at what‘s influencing their behaviour to commit crime. They sit with the kaikawe korero and mangai o to hapori (panel members) around an oval table.

The police observer and any whanau members or support people are also present. Victims are always invited too. The sessions open with karakia and introductions. The police observer outlines the summary of facts and the participant and victim are asked for their versions. The panel then looks into what‘s happening in the participant‘s life to examine what led them to carry out the crime, avenues for restoration, how to address the underlying criminal behaviour, and how to stop them reoffending. The participant is usually given six weeks to complete certain actions to make up for the harm caused. These actions are included in the agreement and may include giving an apology to the victim, payment of reparation, or some form of volunteer work and working with local support services to help deal with the problems that led to the offence. The purpose of the huinga o muri is to support the participant to achieve the agreed actions. The Te Pae Oranga provider follows up with the participant to support them to achieve the agreed actions, the provider then reports back to the police, and if the participant completes the agreed actions within the specified time frame, then they won‘t go to court. If participants do not complete these actions, then the police will decide what to do, which may include prosecution.