Come on Amy – let’s scrap these restorative justice rules instead of waiting to see if they work

No, not all judges get it right – certainly not nearly as often as Alf would like.

But when it comes to who should decide when a cup of tea and a cosy chat is an appropriate way of sorting things out between victim and offender, we politicians seem to have seriously stuffed things up in June last year when we tinkered with the Sentencing Act.

We gave the job of deciding restorative justice is the way to go in a case to a touchy feely bunch of tossers who happen to be the providers of the restorative justice process that will be followed whenever someone pleads guilty.

It’s a bit like legislatively deciding that ice-cream vendors should decide when people should be required to eat ice-cream, then sending the bill to the taxpayers.

What a joke.

But yep. That’s what we MPs did last year.

Alf can only plead extenuating circumstances in voting for it. If memory serves him correctly – which it does sometime – he over-indulged in Bellamy’s that night and was in a state best described as tired and emotional.

The new regime calling for much greater opportunities for restorative justice providers did not kick in until early December.

Only now are we finding what mischief we have done (although Justice Minister Amy Adams is not saying oops, we got it wrong, and instead is saying we must wait patiently for the new regime to be bedded down).

The tone of a press release from the touchy feely  brigade back in December should have told us we had got things awfully wrong.

Restorative Justice Aotearoa welcomes the implementation of the changes to the Sentencing Act that will be implemented throughout all District Courts from today.

Restorative Justice Aotearoa says that changes to the Sentencing Act, which come into effect on 6 December, are a step in the right direction to addressing the harm caused by offending.

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 is a bloke named Mike Hinton.

He put his finger on the nub of the awful wrong we have done when he said:

…the change from an ‘opt in’ to an ‘opt out’ arrangement shows that there is greater acceptance about the role that restorative justice plays in providing the victim with a voice within the criminal justice system.

Greater than what?

Then he explained the awful implications of the switch from opting in to opting out:

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.

The whole thing has been sold to the public as an arrangement to emphasise the importance of victims in the justice process and give them a greater say on whether they wish to participate in a restorative justice process or not.

The changes to the legislation recognise the importance of the victim in the process. Restorative justice facilitators have all been trained to facilitate conferences in a supportive and safe environment for all participants. Members of RJA have been contracted to the Ministry of Justice to deliver restorative justice services in all the District Courts.

Hinton would have been over the moon with delight as he contemplated the business growth  for his members.

But the penny has dropped in other quarters, as we learn from this report at Stuff:

The Ministry of Justice may soon face having to pay costs to offenders because of the continuing glitches in the Restorative Justice system, a judge has warned.

Judge David Saunders made his comment today on the second month of remands and delays, which is piling up expenses for people who are employing lawyers.

At least two cases called in the main list court today had been remanded so that restorative justice meetings could be held under the new legislation, but the meetings had not been arranged and the cases had to be remanded again.

Judge Saunders said his view was that neither case was suitable for a meeting, since one case involved an offender’s wife, and the other involved an offender’s mother, but the legislation gave him no discretion.

“The legislation didn’t think judges were ‘suitable people’ to make that decision,” he said, as he remanded one case for another attempt at sentencing in 12 days’ time.

According to the Stuff report, people are having to pay for repeated appearances by lawyers in cases that would have been dealt with at a single appearance a few months ago.

Oh – and let’s not that Judge Saunders asked whether there was anybody from the Restorative Justice organisation attending the court sitting.

There wasn’t.

“They haven’t got their $4.2 million funding yet to have somebody in court,” the judge said.

When they do want it, we can expect them to be asking for more, of course.

They have already indicated the $4.2 million is not enough.

 

 

 

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