Law / Life / Student life

PLSS and the Pasifika Youth Court

By Mariah Hori Te Pa, Pasifika Law Students’ Society

It was recently announced that Judge Ida Malosi is the recipient of a Distinguished Alumni Award from Victoria University in 2017.

The Pasifika Law Students’ Society is particularly proud of her, not merely because she is an incredible role model for us as New Zealand’s first female Pasifika judge, but because this year we were lucky enough to experience first-hand her incredible work in the Pasifika Youth Court.

On a crisp September morning, Judge Malosi welcomed us to her Pasifika Youth Court in Avondale, Auckland. We were a group of eight senior Pasifika law students from Victoria, sleepy-eyed from our early morning flight from Wellington, but feeling excited and humbled to observe.

Even after taking Youth Justice at law school, many of us didn’t know what to expect when we first entered the Community Centre that doubled as a Pasifika Youth Court. It was certainly not that the Judge would immediately come up to us and introduce herself – but kiss, hug and welcome us warmly she did. The Pasifika elders were there ready for the hearings; they welcomed us with open arms as well.

I was warmed to find that this unconditional compassion was shown equally to the young people and their families when they arrived. This welcome, coupled with the deep and meaningful inclusion of Pasifika culture into the process, was powerful. It made an obvious difference to the experiences of the young people who appeared that day.

One cultural aspect of the court is that for each young person being heard, two elders who share their culture act as “the cultural bridge between the family and the court”. They open and close each session in prayer, guide and motivate the young person throughout the procedure, and speak to them in their home language.

Another aspect was a beautiful, giant tapa cloth that filled the otherwise empty square floor space between the judge’s table, the sitting elders, the young person and the Police/MSD table, and the court registrar. The tapa was made especially for the Pasifika Youth Court. When each young person completes their plan, they are invited to sign their name on the cloth in a type of graduation ceremony. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the cloth had many names and dates scrawled there and it was striking. Look at all these people for whom the Pasifika Youth Court had been a massive success.

The inclusion of Pasifika culture wasn’t the only powerful aspect about the court. The X-factor was Judge Malosi herself. She agreed, when we were talking afterwards, that an important part of her purpose in this Court is to inspire, empathise and connect.

Any judge could apply the relevant laws to the facts and see a young person through to the end of their plan, but the fear is that unless they could inspire a lasting change in the young person we might see them back again in six months time – or worse, in the District Court after they turned 17.

In this way, the Judge was a genius. She was flexible to the mood in the room, knowing exactly when to take a hard line and when to appeal to humour and positivity to make a young person smile and engage. She was kind, thoughtful and interactive. Her infectious personality is what I think made the real difference to the young person’s life at the end of the day.

A case in point is for a young woman who was appearing in court for the first time. She had admittedly come to a troubled time in her life and wanted to make a change, but didn’t quite know how. “One of the biggest traps for young brown women like us,” the Judge told her, “is getting knocked down and not getting back up.”

On our flight back to Wellington that evening, we all agreed that we felt incredibly motivated by our day at the Pasifika Youth Court. We definitely encourage our Pasifika law friends at other New Zealand universities to pick up the phone and arrange their own visits with the Judge. A massive thanks goes to Lagi Tuimavave, our Pasifika Students’ Coordinator, for making our visit a reality!

Finally, to Judge Ida Malosi: congratulations on your momentous and well-deserved award, and fa’afetai tele lava, for everything. Our day with you was a real reminder to many of us of why we came to law school in the first place.