INSIDE JUSTICE: We have a front row seat in the Matariki Court where an 18-year-old's awful history is spelled out in heart-rending detail. It's court with a difference, where everyone has a say — even our reporter.
It was a crime that shocked Kerikeri.
One afternoon in September last year an 82-year-old man stopped to pick up two young men hitch-hiking in the rain on State Highway 10.
But when he dropped them off on Wiroa Rd, opposite Kerikeri airport, instead of thanks he got the beating of his life.
• Matariki Court defers chase driver's sentencing
• Opinion: The National crime crisis
• Sentencing of men who attacked Kerikeri 82-year-old deferred again
• Drunk driver who caused serious injury avoids jail
More than a year later, the two young men who have admitted the crime are still going through a new court process being trialled in Kaikohe.
Matariki Court aims not just to punish and deter but also to identify the underlying causes of crime. It's no quick path to justice but it is hoped it will reduce re-offending and imprisonment rates, especially among Māori.
In a regular District Court hearing lawyers do most of the talking with everyone else relegated to the role of spectators. Family members are seated behind a glass barrier, separated from the judge by rows of lawyers' benches.
In Matariki Court, however, everyone — the judge included — sits around a table and everyone has a say.
Among those going through the Matariki Court process are Tama Puhipi and Rorana Mane, the teenagers who admitted assaulting the 82-year-old and stealing his car.
At the time it was reported that the victim was bashed repeatedly across the head with a hard object, possibly his umbrella, then pushed out of his car on to a gravel layby, where he was found barely conscious by a passer-by.
The victim lost his wallet and hearing aid. His car was recovered after a police chase several days later but was badly damaged.
Worse than that, the victim also lost his trust.
He swore he'd never again pick up hitch-hikers and started locking his house for the first time in his 82 years.
Since then, however, details of the offenders' backgrounds have emerged in court. Some of those stories are also awful and run through with a thread of bleak inevitability.
On November 6 the past of Puhipi, now aged 18, was laid bare in front of whānau, social workers and lawyers.
A report into Puhipi's background cited exposure to violence from a young age, early uptake of alcohol and drugs, and abandonment by his mother, Judge Greg Davis said.
For a time he had been raised by a stepfather with a 20-year methamphetamine habit and multiple convictions for violence; at one point he had been returned to his mother, only to be abandoned a second time. Finally, from the age of 13 or 14, he had ''brought himself up on the streets''.
''It's an absolutely traumatic read,'' Judge Davis said.
Given his past, lawyer Doug Blaikie said he was surprised Puhipi hadn't wound up in the criminal justice system earlier.
Puhipi's face betrayed little emotion at first but as his childhood was discussed in all its depressing detail he placed his head on his hands. He stayed that way almost to the end, as auntie after auntie stood up — uninvited but allowed to speak as long as they needed to — to lament their nephew's past.
''He's had a horrific upbringing,'' said one.
''I apologise for what has happened to this boy,'' said another through tears.
Puhipi, originally from Ōkaihau, is now staying with his father in Auckland. An uncle with a social work background has been tasked with reporting back to the next court hearing with a plan to address Puhipi's past trauma and ensure he doesn't offend again.
The uncle has also taken him to meet his mother's side of the family, learn his whakapapa, and discover positive male role models among his Northland whānau.
Everyone was called on to offer a view. Judge Davis even drew in the reporter, as the ''taringa (ears) of the community'', and explained to whānau that the case would inevitably receive media attention.
At the end of the hearing Puhipi stood up and addressed the judge. He gave a mihi in Māori and recited his newly learnt pepeha. Perhaps it was a sign of progress, of reconnecting with a past before his awful upbringing. Only time will tell.
Judge Davis remanded Puhipi on bail with a 24-hour curfew, allowed out only with specified family members, to reappear for sentencing on January 31.
Also appearing on November 6 was Puhipi's co-offender, Rorana Mane, now aged 18.
Mane's social worker, Ngahau Davis, said his actions had brought ''huge whakamā'' (shame) to Rahiri Settlement, where he lived, and he had to learn to deal with the anger of his family and community, whose mana he had diminished.
Ngahau Davis also spoke of a boy who was quiet, easily led and ''struggled to get his head around things''. Others raised similar concerns about how much Mane understood of the court process and what he had done.
Judge Davis adjourned Mane's sentencing until January 31 while a psychologist prepares a report on possible cognitive difficulties.
■ The Matariki Court was set up in 2011 to reduce imprisonment rates among Māori. It was established by the late Chief District Court Judge Russell Johnson and so far operates only in Kaikohe, where it is overseen by Judge Greg Davis. Although relatively new it was created under provisions first set out in the Sentencing Act of 1985. Those provisions allow the court process to be put on hold while the causes of offending are examined and addressed. It draws heavily on tikanga Māori and allows far greater input from whānau, hapū, community groups, social workers and victims than regular District Court hearings. In particular it aims to identify, and address, the underlying causes of crime. Defendants must plead guilty to be eligible for Matariki Court.