Thursday, December 9

Not a single Maori Crown prosecutor in Christchurch, Gisborne, Whanganui

Many of the private law firms with court orders to prosecute serious crimes for the Crown do not reflect the diversity of the regions they serve, even though that is a condition of their lucrative contracts with Crown Law.

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Photo: RNZ / Vinay Ranchhod

The Crown law firms in Christchurch, Gisborne and Whanganui do not have any Maori Crown prosecutors, and few of the firms outside Auckland have more than one.

Crown prosecutions, generally reserved for the most serious crimes, are -firms contracted to 16 private law firms]that receive more than $ 40 million a year in public money for the work.

Each has a monopoly on Crown prosecutions in the area covered by their Order of the Crown.

Under the contracts with the government agency Crown Law, they are supposed to hire staff that reflects the diversity of their regions and also demonstrate their commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi.

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While all the Crown prosecution firms that RNZ spoke to were incorporating te reo Māori and tikanga into their work, some said that there could be a conflict between Treaty obligations and equality before the law.

A Crown attorney said that while Maori were overrepresented in prosecutions, they were also more likely to be victims of crime. Where reduced sentences were given based on cultural factors that could sometimes make Maori victims feel disappointed.

Despite stipulating in their contracts that private law firms should try to reflect the diversity of their regions, Crown Law does not collect ethnic data on Crown attorneys or the dozens of Crown prosecutors who work for them.

As private companies they are not subject to the Official Information Law, but RNZ asked law firms how they were meeting their obligations to diversity and the Treaty and 11 of the 16 responded.

In Gisborne, where 53 percent of the population is Maori, the nine Crown Prosecutors at Elvidge & Partners are Pākehā, including Crown Prosecutor Steve Manning.

“We are competing for the small number of Maori law graduates with firms from big cities, government departments and other Crown offices,” Manning said.

The firm’s last Maori prosecutor left the firm four years ago and is now a partner in another Crown firm.

“We are well aware of the need to try to attract properly qualified Maori prosecutors, but we will have to show more ingenuity in doing so.”

In Christchurch, where Raymond Donnelly has had the Crown warrant since 1914, there are no Maori Crown prosecutors.

Heir attorney Mark Zarifeh, of European Palestinian and New Zealand descent, said the firm had 19 other attorneys, 18 of whom are European New Zealanders.

Whanganui also has no Maori on its team of six Crown prosecutors.

The Crown law firms in New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Dunedin and Tauranga each had a single prosecutor with Maori heritage.

The make-up of the Hamilton Crown law firm, Hamilton Legal, is more diverse. The 11 prosecutors include a Samoan and two Maori prosecutors, as well as a Maori law graduate who will soon become a junior prosecutor.

The two largest Crown firms, covering the Auckland City and Manukau warrants, also appear to reflect the diversity of their regions.

Meredith Connell, who has had the Auckland warrant since 1921, said that of the 35 lawyers in her Crown specialist group, 17 percent identify as Maori, 11 percent as Asian and 9 percent as Pasifika.

In Manukau, Kayes Fletcher Walker has 39 lawyers: 24 are Pākehā, six are Maori, and four are Pasifika. The firm also has prosecutors from China, Sri Lanka, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Macedonia.

Manukau Crown Attorney Natalie Walker said the firm actively sought out Maori lawyers, including through a program that paid and supported Maori law students to work with the firm for up to three months.

Luke Cunningham Clere, who has had the Crown order for Wellington since 1936, did not elaborate, but said his prosecutors were of Maori, European, Pasifika and Lebanese heritage.

Crown attorneys for the Invercargill, Tasman, Timaru, Rotorua and Whangārei regions did not respond to RNZ inquiries.

Under their contracts with Crown Law, companies are also required to demonstrate their commitment to the “values ​​and principles” of the Treaty.

All 11 firms that responded to RNZ said they were working hard to do so, mainly using te reo Māori and tikanga in their work and offering scholarships and incentives to Maori law students.

But when culture was used in the administration of justice, some said it could create tension.

Natalie Walker, Manukau Crown Attorney

Natalie Walker, Manukau Crown Attorney
Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Manukau crown attorney Natalie Walker said her prosecutors at Kayes Fletcher Walker were often involved in Te Pae Oranga, an iwi-led restorative justice approach.

Walker said it provides a “principled alternative to prosecution that still holds violators accountable and allows them to redress the harm” caused by their violation.

“If a defendant successfully completes the Te Pae Oranga process, our attorneys reevaluate the public interest in the prosecution under the Attorney General’s guidelines.”

Prosecutors could then respond without offering evidence, “in other words, we chose to suspend the case, judging that it is no longer in the public interest to do so.”

But Whanganui Crown Prosecutor Michele Wilkinson-Smith said that when cultural factors are taken into account it must be recognized that Maori are also more likely to be victims of crime.

“The concepts of association and equality before the law are very familiar, but on a day-to-day basis with Maori criminals and Maori victims, I think there is a tension between respecting the principle of association and providing equality before the law.”

He said one example was the use of cultural reporting where, under Section 27 of the Sentencing Act of 2002, offenders can describe cultural factors that may have contributed to their crime.

“It is very important that we do not overlook the fact that many crime victims are Maori and are guaranteed the rights and protection of the law,” Wilkinson-Smith said.

“They are often very upset by the discounts offered due to cultural factors. Crime victims, particularly female crime victims, often suffer from an imbalance of power. Focusing on the offender’s rehabilitation can exacerbate their feelings of worthlessness. They may feel pressured to agree to meet the offender or support a rehabilitation outcome. “

The responses RNZ received showed that the diversity and obligations of the Treaty are sensitive issues for crown attorneys.

“I have been concerned for a long time that we do not have a criminal bar – Crown and defense – that reflects the diversity of our community,” said Anna Pollett, Crown Attorney for Tauranga.

Pollett Legal, whose court order covers the area from Waihi to Te Kaha on the east coast and inland to Kawerau, has interned for Maori law students and has had mixed results in attracting talent.

“I am hopeful that over time we will have legal representation that more accurately reflects our community.”

But Cherie Clarke, the New Plymouth Crown Prosecutor, said “mere statistics will not necessarily show the true diversity” of the Crown attorney network.

“For example, you ask me about my data, which is simply European New Zealand, female, 51 years old,” he said. “What they don’t tell you is that I’m from a working-class family that grew up in Christchurch.”

He said he grew up in a state house on Momorangi Crescent in Redwood – “my parents wouldn’t allow the kids to walk on one side of the crescent because they considered it too dangerous” – and his father had three jobs to build a modest, three – Bedroom house.

“There is more to my bio than that, but you should know that if my statistics are used to suggest that I am of a privileged white background, I will be very upset,” she said. “I am very proud of my place of origin.”

Other Crown lawyers accept that they have some responsibility as major players in a justice system where more than 50 percent of the men in prison and more than 60 percent of the women are Maori.

Brian Dickey, Partner at Meredith Connell and Crown Solicitor in Auckland.

Auckland Crown Attorney Brian Dickey
Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Brian Dickey, one of the few lawyers for the Maori Crown, said that his Meredith Connell firm was working on the basis that the Crown had not respected the Treaty.

“The way the criminal justice system has operated has been disproportionately adverse to Maori, and our firm, as the Crown Prosecutor’s office in Auckland, shares responsibility with successive governments over the decades.”

Meredith Connell aims to have 20 percent of her Crown prosecutors reach a Maori tea conversation level by 2023 and also runs programs that encourage Maori students in schools and universities to law.

Dickey said the relationship with mana whenua had historically been strained.

“However, at a pace that is comfortable for both parties, we hope that our relationship will evolve positively in the coming years and I hope that this is the main legacy that I leave behind.”

This story is part of the series. Is this justice?

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