A 14-year-old cleared of an armed robbery charge after a judge ruled police unlawfully arrested him, could walk free from another 23 charges due to a long wait for a psychological report.
The teen, who cannot be named, was cleared last month of an alleged armed robbery of a Whangārei store.
He denied that charge but not 22 earlier-laid ones including two for aggravated robberies at Auckland stores, two for burglary, 17 of unlawfully taking, getting into, or interfering with vehicles; reckless driving, and escaping custody.
In a separate fixture in the Youth Court at Whangārei last week, Youth Advocates Dave Sayes and Tracy Donald applied to have the raft of admitted charges and a denied charge, also dismissed.
Judge Greg Davis, who granted the last application and also heard this one, reserved his decision for release by July 22.
The last application was made under Section 214 of the Oranga Tamariki Act, which deals with the reasons police can arrest a young person without a warrant. This application was made under Section 322, which allows a judge to dismiss charges if satisfied the time between the date of the alleged offence and the hearing has been unnecessarily or unduly protracted.
Counsels pointed to the seven months it took to get a court-order psychological report for the youth.
The psychological report is one ordered by the court under Section 333 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 to assist in determining a young person's fitness to stand trial, their mental state, the type and duration of any orders that should be imposed and any accompanying conditions.
Sayes said the delay in it being produced "held everyone hostage". Without it, underlying reasons for the teen's offending could not be identified and no plan could be formulated to address them. It affected the teen's family and put the public at risk of his further offending.
During the wait, the teen absconded from electronically-monitored bail twice and then absconded twice more from non-secure Oranga Tamariki facilities.
The delay breached principles of the Oranga Tamariki Act, which required these things to be done "promptly and in a time frame appropriate to the age and development of the child or young person".
Unfortunately, it had "become the norm'" in the Youth Court at Whangārei, Sayes said. He had been complaining about similar delays since 2019.
The delays would not be tolerated in the adult court jurisdiction where legislation provided strict timeframes for these types of reports, Sayes said.
No such timeframes existed in the Youth Court, but there was a memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of Justice and the Auckland District Health Board that he believed required the reports to be produced within 20 working days, Sayes said.
He also criticised Oranga Tamariki (OT), for twice failing to comply with his and other professionals' requests – including that of a judge – to remand the teen to secure facilities.
Putting him in non-secure facilities enabled the teen to flee and clock up nine of the 23 charges – including the two aggravated robberies.
"On occasions when it comes to this sort of thing, they (OT) just seem to be nincompoops and I just shake my head. No one seems to learn from it. I didn't want him (the youth) out, I wanted him locked up," Sayes said.
Oranga Tamariki was not called to answer this criticism but the court was told secure facilities were normally reserved for older youths on more serious charges, such as rape, murder, and serious violence. It was also considered important to hold youth in facilities near their family.
The writer of the psychological report Dr Rebecca Wirihana gave evidence for the Crown.
Wirihana, a registered clinical psychologist since 2012 and employed by Northland District Health Board, said she was the only Section 333 report writer based in Northland. This was her fourth Section 333 report and she was working on two of the others at the same time.
She was not tasked with this report until December 1, last year – a month after the DHB received the court's request for it.
Further delays were caused by her need to take several weeks' sick leave due to Covid she caught from a patient, the teen's absconding, and difficulties accessing him in youth remand facilities, including one where there was a Covid lockdown.
Even without those difficulties, writing the report was a complex and time-consuming process, she said. It required numerous interviews with the teen's family members and staff at several schools he had attended. She also needed to obtain his medical records. She needed to order testing for a cognitive assessment.
The other Section 333 reports were similarly complicated, each taking three or four months.
Donald challenged those explanations saying the teen was on the run for 64 days but there were 147 days when he could have been contacted by the DHB.
Other interviews and requests for information could have been sooner. The DHB should have had a contingency plan or should have enacted it sooner, Donald said.
- by Sarah Curtis, Open Justice