Our Domestic Work

Criminal Justice System in Aotearoa


Our mahi

One of our main areas of work in Aotearoa New Zealand is addressing the human rights issues in the country’s criminal justice system. As a movement, we advocate for people in prison to be treated fairly, and we combat harmful narratives that we’re concerned can undermine the type of interventions needed to address the causes of crime. We advocate for policies and legislation that would bring the country in line with international human rights standards. But at a deeper level, we are calling for transformational change.

Towards transformation

Pioneering experts and advocates are guiding a pathway towards the transformation of our country’s criminal justice system. Thanks to their important mahi, there are several key documents that help to explain what’s wrong with our criminal justice system, why transformational change is needed, and what this could look like.

Together with a range of other organisations, Amnesty International is calling on Justice Minister Goldsmith and Corrections Minister Mitchell to carry on the impetus for transformational change to the justice system. The Government must ensure that this system upholds Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the human rights and dignity of all.

While this work is happening, there are urgent changes needed to reduce the harm that is currently occurring to people in prison and their whānau. In the adult criminal justice system, we’re advocating for a number of policies to reduce this harm, such as strengthening how prisons monitor and report on minimum entitlements.

In the youth justice system, we are campaigning for the Government to get in line with international human rights standards by raising the age of criminal responsibility.



In 2022, we launched our campaign to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Aotearoa New Zealand. This is one of the many changes needed to improve our country’s youth justice system. 

The minimum age of criminal responsibility is the age at which tamariki (children) can be prosecuted for criminal offending. In Aotearoa New Zealand, this age was set at ten years old in 1961. In 2019, the UN advised that all State parties should adopt a minimum age of at least 14 years old. Since then, the New Zealand Government has failed to take steps to get in line with this recommendation.

When a child does something seriously wrong, it is often because they have been seriously let down by society. What we then risk is using the criminal justice system to respond to issues caused by, for example, trauma and a lack of health and mental health support. This means that instead of solving problems caused by a lack of resources and services, our current laws are funnelling children into a system that can trap them for the rest of their lives. This does irrevocable damage to the child, their whānau, and to the rest of society.

That’s why we are calling for the Government to raise the age to 14.


Aotearoa Justice Watch

As part of our work on criminal justice, we have joined with JustSpeak, the NZ Council for Civil Liberties and People Against Prison's Aotearoa to form Aotearoa Justice Watch (AJW). AJW provides a way for people to anonymously record any issues that they have experienced or have witnessed in prisons or policing. This helps to uncover the harm that people are facing and supports the advocacy efforts of the organisations involved.