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From the Law Society

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Law Society watching developments closely

Research indicates that restorative justice benefits society in a number of ways.

The victims of crime can be beneficiaries of this process. Some offenders also benefit, as does society as a whole, with the reduced reoffending that comes with restorative justice. This has been highlighted in research undertaken both overseas and in New Zealand.

The Ministry of Justice research published last year highlighted the benefits of the process. Entitled Reoffending analysis for restorative justice cases 2008–2011, this research showed that participation in restorative justice conferences reduced not only the rate, but also the frequency, of reoffending. Reoffending frequency dropped 23% and the actual rate of reoffending, 12%.

“Based on the findings of this study it is estimated that 650 fewer offences will be prosecuted and 1,100 fewer offences recorded over a three-year period as a result of the 1,569 restorative justice conferences held during the 2011/12 financial year,” the report said.

Also highlighted in the report were the advantages to victims of crime. It noted that previous research in New Zealand showed that 74% of victims of crime who had engaged in restorative justice conferences said they “felt better” after the process, and 80% said they would recommend restorative justice to others in similar situations.

These benefits of the process are among the reasons that the New Zealand Law Society is supportive of restorative justice in appropriate cases.

Making referrals mandatory if the circumstances in the new s 24A of the Sentencing Act 2002 apply, however, appears to be creating a bottleneck in the justice system.

Judges are expected to do their job in a timely fashion and the reported problems over the last few weeks appear to indicate that the new process is hampering their efforts.

While it will take the courts and lawyers time to adjust to the new process, the law as it now stands may be unnecessarily prescriptive.

The Law Society believes it could be appropriate for an urgent review of the way s 24A is working in practice. Our courts have a heavy workload at any time and it is vital that an appropriate balance is struck between the new requirement and the need for fast, effective and accessible justice.

The new provision was part of the Victims of Crime Reform Bill which was introduced to Parliament in 2011. The Law Society made a submission on this in February 2012 which noted some possible pitfalls in the proposed process. In particular, the Law Society pointed out that the requirement for an adjournment, even if a restorative justice process had previously been considered but found not to be appropriate, could cause unnecessary adjournments. This now appears to be happening.

The Law Society and the legal profession are watching developments closely and will need to act further if the current logjam continues.

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