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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 17. July 18th, 1973

Maori Participation in Pakeha Justice

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Maori Participation in Pakeha Justice

Drawing of a Maori family in handcuffs by Ray Mitchell

Institutional racism can only exist in a situation where the power is held by one group, as it is by pakehas in New Zealand. Decision making on matters which affect all New Zealanders is carried out entirely by pakehas, on the basis of pakeha values, life-styles and attitudes. Because it is impossible for pakehas to present the point of view of Maoris, Polynesian and other ethnic minorities, these groups are effectively denied any opportunity to influence the development of the society of which they are a part. Indeed, they are at present not able to determine even their own future.

The injustice of this situation is easily dismissed by pakehas, even liberals, on the grounds that either "we are all one people, so no-one is being left out" or "pakehas are in the majority so it is only natural that they dominate positions of power and make the important decisions". In fact, such blatantly racist attitudes are so deeply ingrained in pakeha thinking that most white New Zealanders fail even to notice that all positions of power in this society are held by pakehas, and that for this reason, apart from any other, this is a racist society.

The extent to which pakehas dominate decision-making, and thereby impose their standards upon society as a whole, is well illustrated by a power-analysis of the whole judicial system by race (see Diagram 1).

The proportion of Maoris in New Zealand prisons, borstals and detention centres far exceeds their representation in the community. This is partly due to the disproportionately high number of Maoris appearing before the courts and the fact that overall arrest and conviction rates for Maoris are higher than for pakehas.2 3 But also of considerable importance is the fact that the Maori offender in the pakeha court is discriminated against: culturally, because the court does not relate to his values and attitudes, and procedurally, because he so seldom receives legal advice or is represented in court by counsel.3 This discrimination, be it conscious or not, has led to the wrongful imprisonment of Maori offenders in the past and has thereby increased their numbers in those institutions.

A further breakdown of those sentenced to institutional punishment is given in diagram 2 from which it can be seen that although Maoris in general are at a disadvantage in the courts, the situation of Maori children is particularly serious. While 43.2% of those appearing in children's courts are Maoris, 60.5% of all children sentenced to borstal training are Maoris and 56.2% of children sentenced to prison are Maoris. In 1971, for example, an average of one 15-year-old Maori per week was sent to borstal

This is true even though there is no evidence that Maori children commit worse crimes or have longer records, and even though the Maori child faces, on average, slightly fewer charges than does the pakeha child. Similarly, in the Magistrate's court whereas 32% of the total offenders are Maori, they are sentenced in disproportionately high numbers to penal institutions.

The only exception is seen in sentencing to periodic detention — both Maori children and Maori adults are under-represented in this category. However, a sentence to periodic detention is regarded as a 'light' sentence compared with the jail sentence which it replaces.

Prison Officers

The next step up in the hierarchy of the judicial system is that of the prison officers. As diagram 1 shows, this is the only staff position where the proportion of Maoris exceeds that of Maoris in the population. But, of course, this vocation carries little power in the wider community, bestows no status and is highly unpopular.

Probation Officers

Strict educational requirements, again based on a wholly pakeha concept of 'education' exclude virtually all Maoris from the probation service. University Entrance is essential and the probation service prefers to take those with a Diploma of Social Science. This diploma can only be gained at Victoria University and cannot be gained by correspondence. The normal minimum age for the probation service is 24 years, but is lowered to 21 for those taking university degrees.

Justices of the Peace

The fact that only 2.5%1 of the 6600 J.P.'s in New Zealand are Maoris indicates clearly the underlying institutional racism in the society. For this honorary position the person does not have to apply nor is there any minimum educational requirement which might exclude Maoris. J.P.'s are appointed by the Minister of Justice at his discretion and he must, therefore, take responsibility for the very low proportion of Maoris holding this office.

Diagram 1. The participation of Maoris at different levels within the judicial system.1

Diagram 1. The participation of Maoris at different levels within the judicial system.1

Diagram 2. The proportion of Maoris amongst all those sentenced to detention centres, borstal and prison.4

Diagram 2. The proportion of Maoris amongst all those sentenced to detention centres, borstal and prison.4

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Magistrates and Judges

In the positions of greatest power within the judicial system Maori participation is almost non-existent. Only one of the 45 magistrates in New Zealand is a Maori, and it took the pakeha judicial system 100 years to appoint him. There is still no Maori judge among the 21 on the Bench at present, nor has there ever been one.

The highest court in the New Zealand judicial system, the Privy Council, stands as a symbol of white ethnocentrism within the British Commonwealth, and as a glaring example of the white cultural domination of New Zealand. As an English court, its irrelevance in this society is self-evident.

Periodic Detention Centres

Every city in which one or more periodic detention (p.d.) centres exist has an Advisory Committee whose function is "to establish and guide the administration of periodic detention in their city."6 Prospective members of these committees are selected by the Minister of Justice on the recommendation of District Probation Officers and are then invited by the Minister to join the Committee. Although the composition of these committees differ from area to area, there appears to be a standard structure. The chairman is always a magistrate. There are then: one police representative, one or two probation officers, one or two Social Welfare Department officers, one or two trade union representatives and two or three 'private citizens' who usually include one or more J.P.'s. Membership of the Advisory Committees is generally restricted to eight—ten people, a majority of whom have other links with the judicial system in one capacity or another.

The present Minister of Justice, Dr A.M. Finlay, has been reported as stating that "these Committees are representative of the community as well as of official services."6 To demonstrate exactly what pakehas really mean when they say "representative of the community" the committees in the Auckland area can be detailed. The Auckland City Committee has eight members of whom one is a Maori. The Otahuhu Committee, serving a community which includes the greatest urban concentration of Maoris in the country, has no Maori members at all. The Papakura p.d. centre Committee, again drawn from a community with a large non-pakeha population, is also wholly pakeha.


The New Zealand police force numbers 3,302 and of these 4.2% are Maoris (diagram 1). Moreover, a detailed analysis of the police force shows quite clearly that of the few Maoris within this system the majority are in the position of least power (diagram 3).

Two factors probably account for the overall low numbers of Maoris. First, there may not be many applicants for jobs with the force. Apart from any other reason for this, recruitment brochures such as "Your guide to a career in the modern Police" and "Police Cadet — Your Career" are written to appeal to a pakeha value system. They lack anything of special relevance to Maoris or Polynesians and while the glossy photographs included in the former show about 71 police recruits or officers, only one could be considered non-pakeha. Second, educational and other barriers eliminate almost all potential Maori applicants. Thus, although three years secondary education is the minimum allowed for police cadets and police recruits, about 70% in fact have either school certificate or University Entrance and these qualifications are preferred, as the recruitment brochures stress. Both police cadets and police recruits must sit a pre-entry test which is at about school certificate level. If they pass that, they must sit an Otis 'A' intelligence test. As 85% of all Maoris leave school without any qualifications at all, many of them particularly poor at English, and as the I.Q. test is entirely pakeha-oriented as well as being set in the English language, it is hardly surprising that so few Maoris and other Polynesians are in the police force.

Diagram 3. A power analysis of Maori participation in the New Zealand Police Force.5

Diagram 3. A power analysis of Maori participation in the New Zealand Police Force.5

Photo of Maori men being walking with police in the background

Promotion within the force also is based on standards set by pakeha administrators and is decided upon by Pakeha senior officers.

Information concerning Maori representation on p.d. committees elsewhere in New Zealand is given in Table 1. The situation in the Auckland area is clearly not exceptional — 'community' participation in the administration of periodic detention means in practice pakeha-community participation. The Maori people of Otahuhu, Papakura, Christchurch and of the other cities cannot be blamed for this situation. Instead the responsibility is again entirely that of the Department of Justice and, particularly, the Minister of Justice. Institutional white racism, the domination by pakehas of positions of decision-making, could hardly be more plainly demonstrated.

It will no doubt be objected that here, as with the appointment of J.P.'s, the exclusion of Maoris is neither deliberate nor wilfully malevolent. In the present context, this is immaterial. The fact is that the Maori people are effectively excluded, regardless of how that came about.


The question of whether or not the Maori people and those of other ethnic backgrounds want to police the streets, patrol the cell blocks or sit in judgement of others cannot be answered here. They will decide that for themselves. Certainly it would be understandable if they were reluctant to fill these positions until such time as they have had an opportunity to participate equally in the restructuring of the judicial and penal systems of New Zealand. They could only otherwise be Maoris playing a pakeha role in a pakeha system. But it is quite clear that in the short term at least those administering justice must modify staff selection policies to enable Maoris and Polynesians to participate in the present system if they wish to. This will necessarily entail abandoning pakeha-oriented educational, I.Q. and other barriers for Maori and Polynesian applicants and replacing them with whatever requirements the Maori and Polynesian people themselves feel are appropriate. A small step would then have been taken toward that equality which pakehas have for so long deceived themselves that all New Zealanders enjoy.

Table 1. The Membership of Periodic Detention Centre Advisory Committees, by race.
Location Maori Pakeha
Auckland 1 7
Otahuhu 0 8
Papakura 0 7
Whangarei 0 8
Hamilton 1 13
Rotorua 1* 8
Gisborne 1 9
New Plymouth 0 9
Hastings/Napier 1* 9
Wanganui 1 5
Palmerston North 1 9
Wellington 0 13
Hutt Valley 0 11
Nelson 1 7
Christchurch 0 13
Dunedin 0 9
Invercargill 0 11

2 M. Schumacher: 'Violent Offending'; Department of Justice Research Series.

3 O.R.W. Sutherland, J. T. Hippolite; A. M. Smith, R.A. Galbreath: 'Justice and Race: A monocultural system in multicultural society'. N.Z. Race Relations Council Conference, Palmerston North, February 1973.

1 All data is based on information obtained from official sources. The figure for Justices of the Peace includes any J.P. on a Maori Roll and any J.P. with a Maori Christian name or surname.

4 Taken from: 'N.Z. Justice Statistics, 1971' (Departmen t of Statistics, 1973).

6 Dr A.M. Finlay, Minister of Justice, Nelson Evening Mail, March 28, 1973.

5 The figures for Maori Sergeants and Constables are based on official estimates.

* Probation Officer (ex officio member)