Redefining legal space? The tikanga of nga Koti Rangatahi

Stella Black1, Alice Mills2*, Katey Thom1, Jacquie Kidd1, Tracey McIntosh3 and Khylee Quince4

1 School of Nursing, University of Auckland
2 School of Social Sciences, University of Auckland
3 Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, University of Auckland
4 Faculty of Law, University of Auckland

*corresponding author:

Māori youth 14-16 years old (rangatahi) are over-represented in police apprehension, conviction and sentencing rates in Aoteraroa New Zealand. Land and resource alienation, the breakdown of tribal and whānau (extended family) social structures, and loss of cultural and spiritual cohesion alongside the imposition of mono-cultural laws, public and social policies continue to perpetuate the poor outcomes experienced by Māori youth. Nga Kōti Rangatahi  (Māori youth courts) are a flaxroots, judicial alternative response to mainstream youth courts, which offer rangatahi the option of having their Family Group Conference plans monitored within a marae (tribal meeting place) setting. The first Kōti Rangatahi was held on Te-Poho-o-Rawiri marae, Gisborne in 2008 and there are now 14 Kōti in operation throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. Principal Youth Court judge, Judge Becroft, has described this court innovation as a way of harnessing the “power of the marae and Māori culture” to change the patterns of Māori offending (Becroft, 2011). Yet concerns have been raised about the transplantation of an adversarial court system into the marae; a culturally significant location and a place to retain and maintain pre-colonial tikanga Māori (laws, values and principles) ways of living and being.

Drawing on observations of several ngā Kōti Rangatahi, this paper aims to explore the tikanga (customary values and practices) of ngā Kōti and its role in court processes and engagement with rangatahi, and the working relationships between ngā Kōti Rangatahi professionals and stakeholders who may operate within the constraints of competing law, policy and philosophy. It will also discuss the place of ngā Kōti in the wider youth justice system in New Zealand.


Stella Black is of Tuhoe, Ngati Whakaue,Whakatohea, Te Whanau-a-Apanui descent. She is passionate about working with Maori and the complexities of Maori realities as they transect the health, criminal and social justice systems.Alice Mills is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Auckland. Her research interests include the role of NGOs in criminal justice, stable housing and prisoner reintegration and problem-solving courts.

Katey Thom is a Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. Her research interests focus on the intersection between law, mental health and addictions, including therapeutic initiatives such as New Zealand’s specialist courts.

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