Restorative justice beats bitter regret

Last updated 05:00 04/06/2014

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OPINION: Restorative justice panels are hardly going to satisfy the vengeance fantasists among us, but let's have a bit of respect for a process that really can do good.

Especially welcome is the Eastern Southland initiative to establish a restorative justice panel to meet drink-drivers facing their third charge, or worse.

The errant driver will meet a former offender, a victim and police, fire and ambulance representatives.

Straight away the suspicion will rise in some people that here will be a way for offenders to tromp along to show some dutiful and essentially insincere regret, promise to clean up their act, and thereby gain some spuriously earned brownie points to lessen the severity of a court penalty.

But look at the recent history - all from the past month. A Napier businessman on an indecent assault charge offered to be part of a restorative justice process and the judge gave him precisely no credit, at all. He knew insincerity when he smelt it.

A Bell Block father put the kibosh on a meeting with the three-times drunk-driver who hit his son because he was simply too angry: "I would go too far and then she won't be the only one going to jail," he said.

But the West Coast parents of a man who died while a passenger in a car that flipped after a brief police pursuit have agreed to a formal restorative justice meeting before what the driver's lawyer calls "the inevitable sentence". The grieving father said the meeting was a healthy way of moving forward.

Note, though, the difference between all those cases and what's intended in Eastern Southland (and other parts of the province, if it's deemed to be working well). In those cases the real carnage had already happened. Those offenders would be facing up to the harm they had done, and the people they had left grieving or have otherwise wronged.

It's hard to see the Eastern Southland initiative as pre-emptive, when it's dealing with drivers who already have ugly records.

But essentially it is. And if it does dissuade even some of those who take part from continuing down their ruinous path, then we all have a stake in wishing it well.

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- The Southland Times

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