Departures will not ‘hurt‘ justice reform group‘s report

The departure of “two Pākehā men” from the government‘s justice reform group will not hurt the quality of its final report, another member of the team says.

Photo: 123RF

The Justice Advisory Group – or Te Uepū – has spent the last year gathering evidence on how best to overhaul the justice system and is expected to report back this month.

But gang expert Jarrod Gilbert and the Independent Police Conduct Authority‘s Warren Young quit the panel in June – just months before it was expected to finish up.

Gang expert Jarrod Gilbert has quit the Justice Advisory Group. Photo: supplied

Justice Minister Andrew Little confirmed one of the men had left due to the excessive workload and the other because of a difference in opinion over the group‘s direction.

Group member and JustSpeak spokesperson Julia Whaipooti said the departures were “a loss”, but said Pākehā men were already well-represented in the justice system.

“That‘s probably the lens that has designed the system and implements the system,” she said.

“We know that over 50 percent of our prisoners are Māori and our victims, as well, a high proportion are Māori.

“It would‘ve been a more significant problem – in terms of representation – if Māori members had left. I truly believe that.”

Julia Whaipooti said she did not think the report had been hurt by the two departures. Photo: Guy Ryan

Ms Whaipooti, who is of Ngāti Porou descent, acknowledged both Mr Gilbert and Mr Young brought their own knowledge and expertise to the table.

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“I don‘t think, in the end, what we‘re going to put out in terms of our report has been hurt by [them leaving].”

She said the panel members had disagreements, but that was a strength, not a weakness.

“It is healthy to have robust kōrero … there would be something wrong with that process if we didn‘t disagree on issues or approaches.

“But what was clear was collectively we all wanted transformative change for the justice system.”

Mr Little told RNZ the team members were assembled with diversity in mind.

“It was deliberately set up to make sure there was a large number, for example, from a Māori background and experience.

“I‘d be most surprised if there weren‘t differences of opinions – as there would be with any advisory group.”

Mr Little denied the resignations had cast a shadow over the panel and expected it to deliver a “credible report”.

“That‘s what I expect to get from them, by the deadline set for them, and it looks like that‘s what they‘re going to deliver to me.”

National justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell said it appeared that some viewpoints had been marginalised from the outset.

“It‘s healthy to have a group made up with different views, but it‘s not healthy if one part of the group feels like they‘re being shut down or they don‘t have a voice.

“To me, looking from the outside in, it appears that may be what‘s happened.”

Mr Young declined to be interviewed and Mr Gilbert has not returned RNZ‘s calls.

The group‘s chair, Chester Borrows, also turned down a request for comment.

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