Māori lawyers’ come together to improve services for whānau

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

The second day of the National Conference of the Māori Caucus of Community Law was held today at Hoani Waititi Marae in Auckland. The premise, how to improve services and help whānau and community members who are being wrong-sided by the law. 

Māori staff in the community law movement are working for Māori families in their communities.

Operations Manager at Waitematā Community Law, Tom Harris (Te Arawa, NgāPuhi) says, "The machine that Government agencies are, they're not designed for us and some of them, it's sad to say, they don't care about us so we need some type of mechanism to respond on their behalf."

Tom Harris has spent the last six years with Waitematā Community Law. He says Māori need to engage in legal processes.

"It's hard to walk in somewhere and get service somewhere where the guy that's going to help you looks exactly like the guy that's going to punish you so of course you go in slightly defensive you're not telling the whole story the whole truth but when you sit down with other Māori staff then you're more likely to tell the full story and be honest about your situation."

Harris says Community Law is underfunded and under-resourced, with Māori members providing a wrap-around service beyond legal advice.

"Usually when Māori come into a law centre, it's like 20% legal but the other 80% is social or whānau issue so we need to navigate them through all of that so we can get them a quality outcome for legal reasons."

He says that between 50% to 70% of incarcerations are Māori.

"As these whānau come out and need more legal advice, there's not enough of us around to help, so of course they'll go to non-Māori and maybe not get a full service. What I mean by that is skill-wise they may be adequate but it's understanding what Māori need at a specific time."

Harris advises Māori to engage with legal support services before falling on the wrong side of the law.