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Good relationships are key to success: Restorative Justice

Good relationships are key to success says Restorative Justice body

Restorative Justice Aotearoa says that changes to the Sentencing Act, which came into effect on Monday 6 December, are a step in the right direction despite recent concerns about backlogs in the courts.

The changes to the Sentencing Act, introduced by the Victim of Crimes Reform Bill, are intended to make restorative justice services more accessible in the District Court.

The General Manager for Restorative Justice Aotearoa, Mike Hinton, acknowledges that the changes have caused disruptions in some courts, particularly in larger courts such as Christchurch. However, Mike Hinton says the changes in most courts around the country appear to have gone relatively smoothly.

“It is inevitable that the introduction of change into the court rooms was likely to cause some level of disruption. We believe that this difficulty can be resolved if the parties involved were to enter into discussions rather than dealing with it through the media.”

The changes to the Sentencing Act mean that all cases will be referred to a restorative justice provider in situations where there is a victim, the offender pleads guilty, there is a service that is able to be accessed and there has been no previous restorative justice process held in relation to that offending. The restorative justice provider determines whether a restorative justice process is suitable in the circumstances, having regard to the wishes of the victim.

Mr Hinton says that part of the problem appears to have been caused by the way judges have interpreted the meaning of whether an appropriate service could be accessed. “Our understanding was that this provision of the legislation would prevent backlogs from happening in the courts by the provider informing the court that they did not have the capacity to assess the case.” It appears that in some parts of the country the presumption has been that if a provider is operating in the court then a service is accessible. “Unfortunately that is not always the case,” he said.

Part of the solution appears to be with regular communication between judges, and provider and court staff Mr Hinton said. “Our members have told us that the process appears to be working well when this occurs.”

RJA was interested in meeting with the judiciary and Ministry of Justice officials to discuss how the backlog in the Christchurch court and in other regions could be addressed. RJA believe that there other options available in the Christchurch and Canterbury region that might help meet the additional demand without incurring additional cost.

RJA believes that any consideration of a legislative change would be premature and is contrary to the intention of the legislation.“We would not support legislative changes to the Sentencing Act that would result in a change to the previous law. Previously only about 6% of eligible cases were referred to the restorative justice providers. The current law means that more victims have an opportunity to meaningfully participate in the justice system and at a level with which they are comfortable.

Restorative justice is the only way most victims can have a voice in the criminal justice process.

Restorative justice practitioners are best suited to determine whether a case is suitable for restorative justice or not as a result of the training they receive.


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