Sort it out, Amy – and give judges back the power to decide when restorative justice should kick in

Alf would have counselled Restorative Justice Aotearoa to lie low and stay stum about changes to the Sentencing Act, which came into effect on Monday 6 December.

As a namby-pamby bunch on law-and-order matters, they were unlikely to be too fussed about the backlog of cases building up in the courts. And of justice delays being justice denied.

They put their emphasis on the changes to the Sentencing Act being intended to make restorative justice services more accessible in the District Court.

This – of course – means work and more money for their members.

The changes have stripped judges of their discretion to decide if restorative justice process is appropriate.

Moreover South Island lawyers are complaining that Christchurch’s restorative justice programme is so under-resourced that every week it falls another six weeks behind.

Amy Adams is going to check it out. 


She has had the great good sense to listen to Alf’s advice on the matter and take on board the thrust of media reports of criticism by some judges.

She is  meeting judges this afternoon.

The minister said the expansion of restorative justice services had gone reasonably well in most places but she was aware that in some areas it had not gone as smoothly as expected.

If she listens real hard, she will recognise that the law is a crock and make some changes.

Radio New Zealand news has reported there have been delays at courts including in Christchurch, Whanganui and Hamilton as cases went on hold while restorative justice providers found victims and formally asked if they wanted to meet their offender.

Alf learned more when listening to Allister Davis on Nine to Noon this morning.

Law Society’s South Island vice-president Allister Davis told Nine to Noon this morning the law had to be reviewed quickly, “otherwise the system is going to collapse”.

“This is more than a bedding in issue,” he said. “This is an issue which is going to just continue to exacerbate the delay of the criminal justice system.”

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.

But as a champion of this nonsense, he too says the changes in most courts around the country appear to have gone relatively smoothly and:

“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.”

Hinton has explained that 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 interesting thing about this is that the restorative justice provider determines whether a restorative justice process is suitable in the circumstances, having regard to the wishes of the victim. 

This is like having the owners of private prisons decide who should go to jail.

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.”

Hinton, naturally, is keen to buttress the remarkable gains made by the restorative justice movement

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.

And, of course:

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.

That puts the judges in their place.

Here’s hoping Amy can do better than Crusher and see through this pap.


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