Examining the Effects of a Group-Based Educational Intervention on Young People’s Understanding of Legal Rights in New Zealand
In New Zealand, when a young person is arrested, detained, or questioned by a police officer, they must first be informed of their legal rights with police via the Child/Young Persons version of the New Zealand Rights Caution (New Zealand Police, 2011). Research has found young people do not have a complete understanding of their legal rights (e.g., Gaston, 2017; Grisso, 1980; Rogers et al., 2014; Strachan, 2008), which may be attributed to the fact that legal rights are not delivered in a developmentally appropriate way (Rogers et al., 2008; Ryan, 2020). This thesis explored two key research questions: 1) What is the level of legal rights understanding among young people in New Zealand? and 2) can their understanding be improved by participating in a group-based educational intervention? The sample consisted of 62 young people (aged 12 – 15 years) who had been recruited through high schools and community groups in the North Island of New Zealand. Young people were quasi-randomly assigned to one of two conditions. The first condition was exposed to the Child/Young Person’s version of the New Zealand Rights Caution, and the second condition received a group-based educational intervention about their legal rights. Subsequently, participants were assessed on their legal rights understanding using an adapted version of the New Zealand Rights Caution Competency Questionnaire (Fortune et al., 2017). Results showed young people had gaps in their understanding and held several misconceptions about their legal rights. The educational intervention led to significant improvements in some aspects, such as young people’s ability to define legal terms and comprehend key statements in the Child/Young Persons version of the New Zealand Rights Caution. Such results indicate the use of a group-based educational intervention may enhance young people’s legal rights understanding, but also that there are other contributing factors. The implications of this study’s findings for policy and practice are considered, as are recommendations for future research in this field.