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New Court Provisions on Restorative Justice

Media Release : New Legislative Provisions Requiring Court to Adjourn Cases for Restorative Justice - Professor Chris Marshall

Date : 21st January 2015

New Legislative Provisions Requiring Courts
To Adjourn Cases for Restorative Justice

Amendments to the Sentencing Act that came into force on December 1st have been the focus of some controversy over recent weeks.

According to some critics, the legislative changes are already responsible for slowing down courtroom processes and exacerbating back logs.

The Court is now required to adjourn proceedings to enable inquiries to be made as to whether a restorative justice process might be appropriate in the circumstances of the case.

“Contrary to popular assumptions”, says Professor Chris Marshall, who holds the Diana Unwin Chair in Restorative Justice at Victoria University, “restorative justice is primarily about meeting the needs of victims, not about being soft on offenders”.

“International research is consistent in showing extremely high levels of satisfaction from victims who choose to participate in restorative justice. When surveyed, typically over 80% of participants report they found the experience positive and helpful and say they would recommend it to others”.

“It is important to understand that restorative justice remains an entirely voluntary process”, Marshall explains. “Victims and offenders must both freely choose to participate. No pressure should be brought to bear on either party to agree to do so”.

Of course, the inclusion of any new mandatory step in courtroom procedure is bound to have significant flow-on effects for the efficiency and workload of the courts.

Marshall says that having moved to strengthen the rights of access to restorative justice, government must now ensure the provision of restorative justice services is adequately resourced.“It cannot choose to stimulate demand without also addressing issues of supply.”

“The current supply of restorative justice services is clearly inadequate to cope with the increased demand that will flow from legislative changes. And it will take time to build capacity in the sector, without short-changing the process”.

In the meantime, Marshall suggests, there is room in the legislation for the Registrar to decide that, given current resourcing,“an appropriate restorative justice process” cannot be accessed for all potentially eligible cases.

“An ‘appropriate process’ is one where skilled facilitators have the opportunity to consult with all the parties individually, and the parties have adequate time to reach an informed decision and go through the process.

“If pressure of numbers makes this impossible in every case where there is a guilty plea and a known victim, it would make sense to allocate available resources to those cases where restorative justice could make most difference”.

These are mainly the cases, Professor Marshall says, where significant personal harm or loss has been inflicted by the offending and where both parties feel ready and prepared to meet one another”.

“The courts and community providers need to work together on finding ways to focus available services at the more serious end of the spectrum and to ensure that restorative justice not reduced to a check box process”.

© Scoop Media

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