Communtity Law Manual | Criminal Courts | Restorative justice conferences

Alternatives to going to court: Diversion and restorative justice

Restorative justice conferences

What is restorative justice?

Restorative justice is a process that aims to put things right for the people who have been victims of offences. It does this through a meeting between the victim and defendant called a restorative justice conference. The conference is private and run by trained facilitators.

Sentencing Act 2002, ss 24A, 25

Although restorative justice takes place outside the criminal court system, the law specifically requires judges to adjourn each case to give an opportunity for restorative justice, if the defendant has pleaded guilty and a restorative justice process is available. Judges also have a separate power to adjourn a case to allow for a restorative justice process to happen or to be completed, even if the defendant didn't plead guilty but was found guilty after a trial.

Victims' Rights Act 2002, s 9

Court staff and police employees also have a specific duty to refer a case to a restorative justice process whenever the victim of the offence asks them to arrange a meeting with the offender.

When is a restorative justice conference available?

When a defendant pleads guilty to an offence that has affected a victim, a restorative justice conference may be available if the victim consents to the process.

In many parts of the country, there are court-referred restorative justice programmes. In these programmes, court coordinators interview the defendant to check whether restorative justice will be suitable and refer the case to trained facilitators, who will assess whether a restorative justice conference is possible. The focus of the court-referred programmes is on more serious adult offending, but family violence and sexual offending cases are excluded.

In order to decide whether a restorative justice conference is suitable, a facilitator will meet the defendant, the victim and their support people. Both the defendant and the victim must be willing to take part; the defendant must accept responsibility and the aim must be for the conference to produce a positive outcome.

Note: In parts of the country where a court-referred restorative justice programme is not available, there may be a restorative justice community group operating an approved programme. If the defendant wants to take part in one of these programmes, they will need to contact the restorative justice community group.

If the defendant has pleaded guilty to the charge and a restorative justice process is available, the judge must adjourn the case to provide an opportunity to find out whether restorative justice is appropriate for this particular case and to hold a restorative justice conference if it is appropriate.

What happens at a restorative justice conference?

A restorative justice conference is a meeting between the defendant and the victim, each with their support people. Trained facilitators help the victim and the offender talk about the offence and the issues around it. The victim gets a chance to talk about how they've been affected by the offence and to have a say in how the harm can be repaired. The defendant has a chance to accept responsibility for what they have done and can offer to try to put things right for the victim.

The aim is for the victim and defendant to come to an agreement about a way forward. Sometimes this includes an agreement on a plan for how the defendant can put things right.

How does a restorative justice conference affect a defendant's sentence?

The facilitators write a report about what happened at the conference and any agreements reached.

Sentencing Act 2002, s 8

The restorative justice report is given to the judge, who must take the report into account in deciding the defendant's sentence (see “Sentencing” in this chapter).

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