Young people and their families talk about communication assistance in the New Zealand youth justice system

Mrs Kelly Howard1, Dr Clare McCann1, Dr Margaret Dudley1

1University Of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

This qualitative study gives voice to young people and their families’ who have experienced communication assistance in the New Zealand youth justice system.  This includes in meetings with lawyers, in Family Group Conferences and in court.  Communication assistance is a form of specialist support for witnesses and defendants in justice settings who have been identified as having communication difficulties.  This emerging role in New Zealand is modelled on the role of the intermediary in England and Wales.  Northern Ireland and more recently, New South Wales, Australia have also adopted intermediary schemes based on the England/Wales model.  Other Australian states are also considering the merits of introducing intermediaries.  The academic literature on the intermediary systems outside of England/Wales is relatively sparse.  The systems in Northern Ireland, New South Wales and New Zealand have been inspired by their England/Wales counterpart, but the way they look and function in practice is different.  Not all systems, for example, offer intermediary support for young people with communication difficulties who are facing criminal charges.  The main finding of this research is that young people and their families are overwhelmingly in support of this new role.  Participants considered that youth justice processes were “easier” with communication assistance.  In particular, that they were better able to understand and participate in the processes affecting them as a result.  These findings are relevant to NZ and Australian professionals, stakeholders and decision makers.  This research relates to the theme of this year’s conference ‘Justice reimagined: the intersection between academia, government, industry and the community’ in that it is academic research that gives a voice to community members in the hope of informing and influencing decisions at a governmental level (and eventually everyday practices in industry or in youth justice processes).  The style of interviews and nature of analysis may furthermore be of interest to other researchers and professionals working with communication impaired individuals.


Kelly Howard originally trained as a lawyer, graduating with a BA/LLB (Hons) from the University of Auckland in 2008.  She has since worked in different facets of the New Zealand criminal justice system; as a criminal lawyer and then as a facilitator of group-based rehabilitation programmes with individuals on sentence in prison and in the community.  Kelly is in her last year of her clinical psychology training at the University of Auckland.  Her doctoral thesis is on communication assistance in the New Zealand youth justice system.  She is passionate about criminal justice policy issues, and about helping to create a criminal justice system that is more responsive to the needs and circumstances of the average individual accused of committing crime.


The society is devoted to promoting criminological study, research and practice in the region and bringing together persons engaged in all aspects of the field. The membership of the society reflects the diversity of persons involved in the field, including practitioners, academics, policy makers and students.

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