A local initiative aimed at reducing this region’s staggering family violence problem — the worst in the country — has progressed further with the first sitting this week of a new Intervention Court.
The court represents the ongoing determination of partner agencies to be more responsive to the crisis.
It maintains but has reorganised current court guidelines for a framework that enables a more effective response, says Senior Sergeant Greg Brown of the partner agency Whangaia Nga Pa Harakeke (Gisborne’s joint iwi and police family harm unit, which began last year.)
The court works with iwi, government agencies, community groups and defence counsel to develop individualised plans for offenders aimed at achieving long-term behaviour and lifestyle changes.
It recognises the wide-reaching effect of family violence — particularly how children are affected in homes where there is intimate partner violence.
Victims needs are represented and considered by the court and agency assistance can also be assigned to them. Family members and other supporters are encouraged to attend and contribute to the forum.
The court will usually be presided over by resident judge Haamiora Raumati, with agency representatives seated roundtable style in the main body of the Family courtroom.
Representatives this week included Sergeant Aubrey Ormond from the Gisborne Police prosecutions department, Detective Sergeant Steve Smith from Whangaia Nga Pa Harakeke, Tim Marshall from Tauawhi Men’s Centre, Lyall Anania from Community Corrections, and various defence counsel.
Representatives from other agencies — Oranga Tamariki and Te Hiringa Matua (a support agency for teenaged parents) — also appeared on behalf of individual defendants with whom they had already been working.
The court aims to provide a more holistic response to family violence than currently available in the conventional court setting. It also seeks to provide a more timely response to family violence, enhance safety for victims and families experiencing violence, and encourage accountability among offenders.
It acts to facilitate the sharing of information between agencies, give final approval to individualised plans and monitor progress.
Defendants must acknowledge their offending and show a willingness to engage with services designed to assist long-term change.
They are screened as to their suitability by the police Whangaia unit ahead of first appearing, but ultimately any agency can recommend a defendant be included.
Judge Raumati yesterday told defendants they could expect the style of this new court to be more like a Family or Youth Court proceeding.
Rather than standing in a dock, as they would do in a criminal court forum, defendants join the group in the body of the court, seated beside their counsel and accompanied by whanau or other supporters.
One defendant said, “this has a way more better feel than upstairs (in a criminal courtroom)”.
‘It will help me to be a better man, a better dad'Judge Raumati told defendants the Intervention Court was no easy option. He needed to know they were prepared to meet the challenge of addressing personal issues underlying their violence.
It could be a long process and defendants had to be willing to remain engaged with the services provided to them.
One agency would take the lead in formulating an individual plan and it would be presented to the court for approval, usually at a next sitting about a fortnight later.
The ultimate aim was for progress by an offender and their family to be monitored and factored into the court’s final sentencing decision.
Defendants can be directed to programmes immediately and start working towards goals while on remand.
Judge Raumati questioned defendants as to what services they thought would benefit them.
Most identified counselling for anger management, help with drug and alcohol abuse, and parenting skills as paramount.
Others recognised additional services — budgeting advice and help with applying for a specialist benefit or getting a driver’s licence.
A 17-year-old charged with three counts of assaulting a woman, threatening language, and threatening to kill, spoke enthusiastically about his hopes of reforming his life.
Soon to become a father for the second time, he said this court was the right place for him because, “it’s given me another opportunity to change my anger ways and it will help me”.
“It’s a good kick in the bum and will help me to be a better man and to be a better dad for my children.”
He aspired to a career in farming.
“I’m not going to let my bad incidents force my future and I will succeed one day on to a farm,” he said.
Judge Raumati put it to him that with another child on the way, he now had a lot of responsibilities.
The defendant replied, “and I’m taking them all on sir.”
Det. Sgt Smith noted that despite living in Tolaga Bay, the defendant had proved his willingness to engage with the agency help already assigned to him. He was having driving lessons and attending counselling.
The judge reminded the defendant how serious the charges he faced were and of the need to stay focused.
“The sad reality is that adults who come here on this sort of stuff end up in jail and no one wants you at 17 to go there as once people start going there it’s a really hard thing to stop,” Judge Raumati said.
The partner of another defendant, with whom Whangaia was already working, said she hoped the court process would enable them to attend a parenting course together.
“If we learn how to parent together, then everything else will fall into place,” she said.
Another defendant told the court his family’s involvement with Whangaia ahead of this court process was positive and had changed the way he viewed police.
The Gisborne Herald will meet with agency representatives in a few weeks to bring readers a more indepth view of the court’s work.