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Printed: 06/12/2023
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Youth Justice Service Pathway guidelines

The Youth Justice Service pathway describes the phases of the youth justice process, including the functions of the Youth Court and Police, the family group conference, and how to implement, monitor and review a family group conference plan or Youth Court Order.

Youth justice is distinct from adult (criminal) justice, and deals with offending by children aged 10-13 years, and young people aged 14-16 years. Its processes and practice are governed by the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 (part IV particularly, although children who offend are also dealt with by part II).

UNCRoC ensures the right of young people to special care and the right to provision, protection and participation. Because of this need for special protection and care, children and young people who break the law are treated differently from adults who offend. The law makes sure that a young person is dealt with in a way that acknowledges their needs and general wellbeing. It also ensures they are held accountable and are encouraged to accept responsibility for their offending. In this way, young offenders can be held accountable, learn from their mistakes and develop in a socially acceptable way.

The New Zealand youth justice system works on the basis of diversion. It aims to resolve offending without young offenders receiving a criminal conviction, as they would under the criminal justice system. Experience shows that once a young person enters the formal justice system and receives a criminal record, they are more likely to develop a pattern of offending and their offences may get more serious. The aim is to avoid this as much as is possible taking into consideration the safety of the public.

Around 90 per cent of young offenders are now kept out of the Courts. Minor offences are dealt with by the police either through frontline warning or caution, or referral to youth aid for an alternative action plan (as an alternative to instituting formal proceedings). More serious offending is dealt with by Oranga Tamariki through a family group conference, though the young person still may not be prosecuted in Court.