Restorative justice of little benefit to victims

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?

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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 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.

 - The Press


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