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Goff Launch of Project Restore

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice

5 August 2005

Speech Notes

Launch of Project Restore

Speech to Safe Programme
Grey Lynn Community Centre
Auckland

Thank you for your invitation to the launch today of Project Restore, which provides a restorative justice option for victims of sexual offending.

The project you are embarking on is not one that is without risks. However I believe it is important to trial it. The conventional justice system itself has clearly not adequately met needs across this area. That is why victims of sexual abuse and attacks, and groups representing them, have asked for this option to be available, and I am keen to respond to victims' needs in this regard.

For a whole variety of reasons, victims of sexual offending have often been reluctant to seek remedies through the existing criminal justice system.

Sometimes this is because of fear of re-victimisation. The approach taken by defense lawyers within our adversarial system towards complainants in rape cases provides strong grounds for this.

The criminal justice system is also not always seen by those victims who know the offender personally as being appropriate to their needs.

Notwithstanding the advice we give that victims of sexual or domestic violence should always lay a complaint with the police, many do not do so. Local and international studies show that fewer than a third of victims of sexual abuse or violation report the offence to the police.

In more than three quarters of abuse and rape cases, the offender is known to the victim.

Tough laws against sex offenders aren’t enough, if most victims do not see the criminal justice system as the answer to their problems. On this basis alone there is good cause to examine whether other options may encourage more victims to seek justice for what they have suffered.

Restorative justice has been developed over the past one to two decades in New Zealand to deal with many forms of offending.

It is not a panacea. However in many instances it has shown potential to provide a more effective response to offending and victimisation than our formal criminal justice system. Carried out appropriately, it can provide a more meaningful and constructive experience for the victim.

The victim can confront the offender with the impact the offence has had on them. And both the victim and offender can develop a direct and personal plan to repair the harm.

In many instances, restorative justice won't be appropriate. Where the offender doesn't admit and is not ready to accept responsibility for their offending, or the victim wants nothing to do with the offender, it won't work.

Where the victim and offender are prepared to engage in the process, both can gain more from it than from a conventional justice process.

Recent evaluations of court-ordered and community-based restorative justice have shown a high level of satisfaction by participants in the restorative justice process.

As yet, the evidence is far less strong of the impact of restorative justice on reducing re-offending. There will be many cases of sexual and violent offending where the critical role of the justice system is to denounce the offence and protect the public from future offending by removing the offender from society. The restorative justice process may not be appropriate in these cases.

In the last few years restorative justice has made significant progress in New Zealand. The Sentencing, Parole and Victims’ Rights Acts for the first time give statutory recognition to the process. The government has funded, and evaluated, court-referred restorative justice pilots, including here in Auckland and Waitakere.

The Crime Prevention Unit supports over 18 community-based restorative justice programmes.

We are currently establishing a framework for the continuing development of restorative justice processes, starting with the publication last year of Principles of Best Practice.

But within the formal system of restorative justice, domestic violence and sexual offences, though sometimes dealt with informally by providers, have largely been excluded.

The reasons for this include inherent power imbalances between victims and offenders, and risk to the physical and emotional safety of victims. These remain important considerations but are not an absolute barrier to restorative justice being able to work in these areas.

The agencies participating in this project give me confidence that we should be prepared to trial it.

Help, Rape Crisis and Safe all have the skill and experience and strong track records in protecting and promoting the well being of victims of sexual abuse. I respect and admire the work you have done and what you have achieved.
Restorative Justice Services also has a very good track record.

It is obviously really important in this area to adhere to best practice principles – clear and high quality processes, rigorous and on-going monitoring and evaluation, selecting only appropriate cases, and ensuring that the emotional and physical safety of participants is the overriding concern.

I know that you are committed to implementing those principles.

Putting in place the appropriate processes and safeguards and training facilitators will take time and need enormous care.

You will be pushing the boundaries of what restorative justice has to date undertaken, but progress by definition requires that boundaries be pushed.
Significant inadequacies in the status quo mean that we do need to trial new options.

I hope that the Ministry of Justice will work closely with you where it can in this new endeavour.

Thank you for your commitment and efforts. I wish you well with the project.

ENDS

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