New report on youth justice launched

05 September 2012

Alison Clelands report launch

An important new research report focusing on the importance and complexity of the work of lawyers who represent young people in Aotearoa/ New Zealand's Youth Justice system - by Senior Lecturer, Alison Cleland - was launched at the Faculty of Law on Tuesday 28th August.

The launch was attended by a broad range of youth justice representatives from across Auckland, including guests from the Children’s Commission, Amnesty International, and the Centre for Research on Families and Children. In addition to Auckland District Court Judges and Youth Advocates, the launch was attended by Sir Kenneth Keith, a Judge of the International Court of Justice.

In welcoming guests to the launch, Dean of Law, Andrew Stockley, said that Alison Cleland’s report points to the very important and complex work that is being done in New Zealand’s court system by Youth Advocates.

“This is a subject which is very important to the Auckland Law School. We have developed and have a standalone course on Youth Justice which is run by Alison Cleland and Khylee Quinn, and it is a course we take a lot of pride in. It focuses on the practicalities of the Youth Court and has generated a lot of enthusiasm among a whole generation of students,” he said.

Exploring the roles, functions and responsibilities of lawyers for young people, the report was lauded by His Honour AJ Becroft, New Zealand’s Principal Youth Court Judge.

“In New Zealand we have an extremely good youth justice system that is significantly undervalued. We must not take for granted the role that Youth Advocates play in New Zealand. Your research gives our youth justice system a good clean bill of health, but with improvements suggested - and these are noted. Thank you for what you have done in helping blaze a trail for research into youth court practice. We will take your recommendations to heart,” he said.

In thanking people for their ongoing support as she was carrying out her research, Alison Cleland said before she moved to New Zealand from Scotland in 2007 and was practising as a children’s rights lawyer, she was very well aware of New Zealand’s reputation as a world leader in youth justice practice.

“I feel extremely privileged that I have had the opportunity to research the work being done by youth justice personnel in New Zealand,” Alison said. “My research has shown that New Zealand does have a world-class youth justice system. I hope the Government realises that it has such an effective system in its Youth Advocates and that any legislation that they bring forward does not unwittingly get rid of the specialisation by saying that any lawyer can do this job – it’s essential, it’s specialised and our young people deserve it,” she said.

The two main issues arising from Alison’s report are that for the first time there is research evidence of how well Youth Justice lawyers are protecting young people's rights in the justice system. New Zealand has always been regarded as an international model of good practice in Youth Justice however until now, previous research in this area has concentrated largely on what happens in the family group conference.
Her report also shows how Youth Justice lawyers ensure that young people know what they are charged with, can give instructions and understand the consequences of being involved in the process. It proves that the role of Youth Advocate is a specialist and complex one.

Alison also discussed the provisions of the Legal Assistance (Sustainability) Amendment Bill currently before Parliament. The Bill would get rid of the specialist criteria for the appointment of Youth Advocates and replace the specialist criteria with a generic one. Alison says that in essence, the message would be that any criminal lawyer could be a youth advocate and this would be a dangerous mistake. The risk would be that young people would not understand the charges or the processes they were facing because their lawyers would not have the necessary skills and expertise to explain matters to them.

Alison is a children’s rights lawyer who has a Masters in Welfare Law, special subject child welfare, from Leicester University and is the author of two leading Scottish child law texts: Children’s Rights in Scotland (2009, 3rd edition, with Elaine Sutherland) and Child Abuse, Child Protection and the Law (2008).