Revising the Language of the New Zealand Youth Rights Caution to Support Understanding Among Young People
Many young people in New Zealand will engage in antisocial behaviour during their teenage years. Consequently, many young people will interact with the police. When young people speak to police, they are read the Child/Young Persons Rights Caution (the Youth Caution) which informs them of the rights they are entitled to (legal rights), such as choosing to stay silent and speaking with a lawyer. However, many young people have an incomplete understanding of their rights as the Youth Caution does not support complete understanding. An explanation for this incomplete understanding is the language within the Youth Caution is too complex for young people. The current study sought to address this issue by creating and piloting a revised youth caution which aimed to be simpler and easier for young people to understand. Three research questions were addressed in this study: 1) What was young people’s level of understanding of their legal rights? 2) Would the revised youth caution improve the level of legal rights understanding? 3) Would understanding of legal rights increase with age? To answer these questions, young people (aged 10-18 years) were recruited from schools and the community (n = 101). Their legal rights understanding levels were then assessed, based on hearing either the standard or the revised youth caution. The results in relation to the research questions showed participants’ legal rights understanding was incomplete, the revised youth caution did not improve understanding across any aspects of legal rights understanding and understanding increased with age. These results suggest simplifying the language within the Youth Caution is not sufficient to support young people’s understanding, and legislation could offer further support, such as requiring a lawyer to be present as the default option when young people are speaking to the police.