by Kim Workman“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived and dishonest -- but the myth -- persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
President John Kennedy
Commencement Address at Yale University, June 11 1962 
Mike Yardley was beaten to the draw by Manawatu Standard’s Jono Galuszka, who did a great job of raising concerns about the new legislation, in an article ‘New laws may lead to court delays’ . Jono took the trouble to speak to people. He talked with Mike Hinton of Restorative Justice Aotearoa, and a Horowhenua couple, John and Lynda Timmer-Arends whose son had been murdered. The Timmer-Arends had two concerns which are raised regularly about restorative justice. First, the recurring belief that people will be forced into a restorative justice conference against their wishes. It is always a voluntary process, and one in which either the victim and offender can choose not to participate, at the outset, or during the process. The second prevailing view, is that it should not be used in serious cases. That was a widely held belief twenty years ago – the evidence since then has proved us wrong. Restorative justice is more effective in crimes of violence than in property crimes. The more serious the violence, the more likelihood that restorative justice will provide satisfaction to the victim, and reduce reoffending on the part of the offender.
OPINION: Pop your head into any Canterbury court and you'll find the wheels of justice are grinding ever slower.
Last week heralded a quiet revolution to the sentencing procedures in district courts, whereby virtually every case involving victims that results in a guilty plea will be adjourned.
No longer will offenders be swiftly sentenced after a guilty finding. The presiding judge is now compelled to park up the case, under Section 24a of the Sentencing Act, while considerations are given to convening a restorative-justice conference.
This new touchy-feely provision, which applies to offending right across the board, will surely compound what can already be the glacial pace of court, as restorative justice providers set about determining the willingness of offenders and victims to have a come-together.
The Ministry of Justice is spending mega-bucks contracting teams of restorative-justice facilitators to implement this bureaucratic malarkey.
Restorative Justice Aotearoa, the national body of facilitators, is heaping praise on the change, which pre-supposes every victim wants to face his or her offender over tea and biscuits.
The system's new opt-in position is a bit like KiwiSaver, whereby victims will have to actively opt out of a restorative-justice process. Plus, the court must adjourn proceedings to allow facilitators time to readily identify a victim.
Let's suppose I have pleaded guilty to possessing methamphetamine for supply. Is every prospective buyer and their families, who will be the real victims, going to be somehow corralled into a conference?
What about the recidivist burglar of 30 properties? And just how much time and money is going to be zapped trying to cajole people to take part?
The Sensible Sentencing Trust is pillorying the new regime, arguing that restorative justice should only apply in situations where it's possible for the victim to have restored to them whatever they may have lost as a result of an offence. For example, the theft of a bike or damage to their letterbox.
But serious violence, really?
Sensible Sentencing's biggest beef is that these restorative justice conferences are actually offender-driven. They will be taken into consideration as part of sentencing, potentially resulting in brownie-points and lighter penalties.
Doesn't that make a mockery of the much-vaunted philosophy of placing the victim at the centre our justice system?
- The PressThe New South Wales model strikes me as a far fairer approach, whereby victim-offender conferences can occur only post-sentence, and often in conjunction with rehabilitation programmes at the end of a sentence.
Justice delayed is indeed justice denied.
We've just added another overcooked, money-sucking monkey wrench to its timely delivery.
There was a prompt on-line response from Professor Chris Marshall, the Diana Unwin Chair in Restorative Justice, Victoria University of Wellington
- Made agencies more accountable for delivering quality services for victims;
- Required the Ministry of Justice to develop a Victims Code that outlines victims’ rights and the service available to victims;
- W idened the eligibility of victims able to register on the Victims Notification System so that they can stay informed about the offender;
- Extended the rights of victims to also apply to victims of youth crime.
- SST Caveat No 1: In New South Wales, restorative justice is victim driven, rather than offender driven, and focuses on the offender having an obligation to their victim to try and repair the harm done by their crime.
- CSNSW’s Response: CSNSW accepts referral from either victims of crime or offenders. A small number of victims of crime specifically say that they would only participate if the process is offender initiated as this would reflect remorse and responsibility taking. About one in eight offender referrals results in either a victim-offender conference or an alternate RJ process (VOM / indirect mediation).
- SST Caveat No 2: In New South Wales, restorative justice takes place post-sentence rather than pre-sentence, and therefore will not be taken into consideration as part of sentencing, and cannot be rushed through prior to sentencing just to earn a sentence reduction.
- CSNSW Response: Whilst our practice is post-sentence, in NSW there are pre-sentence programs: Youth Justice Conferencing (Juvenile Justice) and Forum Sentencing (Attorney Generals). We are of the belief that best practice RJ should be available to victims of crime at any stage of the CJ process.
- SST Caveat No 3: In New South Wales, Restorative Justice meetings are combined with and only occur in conjunction with rehabilitation programmes at the end of a sentence.
- CSNSW Response: CSNSW accepts post-sentence referrals at any time.
- SST Caveat No 4: In New South Wales, restorative justice outcomes have no influence on parole hearings – no reports are `submitted to the parole board regarding restorative justice meeting outcomes when considering release.
- CSNSW Response: Objective closure summaries, with no subjective comment regarding the writer’s perceived success of victim offender conference are available to the State Parole Authority.
- Sensible Sentencing Trust also considers that no person with a serious criminal record should work in Restorative Justice as a facilitator or in any other voluntary or paid capacity. Everybody must be screened and full Police checks carried out, along with mandatory training. That is already the situation in New Zealand, with full Police checks and enquiries made, so that consideration may be given to the suitability of persons to train as a restorative justice facilitator. The same approach applies in NSW.
- CCNSW Response: All CSNSW staff undergo rigorous criminal record checks and RJ facilitators receive formal training in the TJA conferencing model and on the job training in the practice of RJ in response to serious crimes committed by adults.
“Research recently undertaken by UNSW indeed supports the fact that our model is highly successful in addressing the unmet justice needs of victims of crime and offenders. We however strongly support a vision for RJ, that is inclusive of the person responsible and those directly harmed, being available at every juncture of the justice process.”Those who are interested , can read more about their approach on the new CSNSWwebsite.