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The Press-News column Dec16

Restorative Justice revolution in our District Courts.

Pop your head into any Canterbury courthouse and you’ll find the wheels of justice are grinding ever slower. Last week heralded a quiet revolution to the sentencing procedures in district courts, whereby virtually every case resulting in a guilty plea will be adjourned. No longer will offenders be swiftly sentenced, following a guilty finding.  The presiding judge is now compelled to park up the case, under Section 24A of the Sentencing Act, while considerations are given to convening a restorative justice conference. This new touchy-feely provision, which  applies to offending right across the board, will surely compound what can already be the glacial pace of court, as restorative justice providers set about determining the willingness of offenders and victims to have a come together. The Ministry of Justice is spending mega-bucks contracting teams of restorative justice facilitators to implement this bureaucratic malarkey.  Restorative Justice Aotearoa, the national body of facilitators, is heaping praise on the change, which pre-supposes every victim wants to face their offender over tea and biscuits. The system’s new opt-in  position is a bit like KiwiSaver, whereby victims will have to actively opt out of a restorative justice process. Plus, the court must adjourn proceedings  to allow facilitators time to readily identify a victim.  Let’s suppose I have pleaded guilty to possessing methamphetamine for supply. Is every prospective buyer and their families, who will be the real victims, going to be somehow corralled into a conference? What about the recidivist burglar of 30 properties? And just how much time and money is going to be zapped trying to cajole people to participate? The Sensible Sentencing Trust  is pillorying  the new regime,  arguing that restorative justice should only apply in situations where it’s possible for the victim to have restored to them whatever they may have lost as a result of an offence. For example, the theft of a bike or damage to their letterbox. But serious violence, really?  Sensible Sentencing’s biggest beef is the fact these restorative justice conferences are actually offender driven. They will be taken into consideration as part of sentencing, potentially resulting in brownie-points and lighter penalties. Doesn’t that make a mockery of the much-vaunted philosophy of placing the victim at the centre our justice system?  The New South Wales model  strikes me as a far fairer approach, whereby  victim-offender conferences can only occur post-sentence, and often in conjunction with rehabilitation programmes at the end of a sentence. Justice delayed is indeed justice denied. We’ve just added another overcooked, money-sucking monkey wrench to its timely delivery.

Mike’s weekly current affairs column, as published in The Press. Dec 16. http://www.press.co.nz

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