A judge giving a sentence based on Kaikohe's whanau-focused Matariki Court justice system said he did not want people reading media reports to think he had dished out a soft option.
In giving 18 months' home detention with electronic monitoring at an alcohol rehab centre to repeat-offender Billy Atawhaipono Herewini, whose drink-driving actions seriously injured three people in January, Judge Greg Davis said many might take it as a message that he thought such a serious offence did not deserve prison.
Instead, in the terms of the Matariki Court, he had given Herewini the chance not to mope in prison as "punishment" but to take responsibility for himself and embark on life-changing rehabilitation.
Herewini had caused a serious crash on January 8 while he was driving with two children in the car on Old Russell Rd between Whangaruru and the Bay of Islands.
Neither child was restrained and both were sitting in the back seat of the unwarranted, unregistered vehicle.
When Herewini ploughed into an oncoming car one child was thrown from the back seat and crashed into the footwell. She was on life support and underwent several surgeries for brain and skull injuries over the course of weeks. She is likely to be affected for the rest of her life. Both children and Herewini were injured.
On Monday Herewini was sentenced on three charges of driving with excess blood alcohol and causing injury.
Judge Davis said the Matariki Court, which listens to whanau as a court would usually hear lawyers and expert witnesses, helped facilitate access to wrap-around services and consider alternative pathways to sentencing.
"It is not a separate court. It operates within the Sentencing Act and case law. It enables the court to hear from whanau," he said.
Under the court's terms, "I have to arrive at a sentence that denounces what you have done, [requiring] a balancing act between competing objectives such as punishment and rehabilitation."
Herewini's offence could have landed him two-plus years in prison, extended for previous drink-driving related convictions, Judge Davis said. Should Herewini not complete the programme he had already started at Auckland's Odyssey House, he would go to jail until the end of his sentence period.
The Matariki Court was initiated in Kaikohe in 2010 by the late Chief District Court Judge Russell Johnson. Concerned that more than half the people in New Zealand's men's and women's prisons were Maori, Judge Johnson thought justice processes were not designed from the Maori perspective.
Under section 27 of the Sentencing Act 2002, it allows an offender's whanau, hapu and iwi to address the court at sentencing and "wrap around" services by programme providers to be considered in the process.