What is restorative justice?
Restorative justice has, at its heart, the notion of victim and offender coming face-to-face as part of a restorative process for those involved. It is a process for resolving crime that focuses on redressing the harm done to victims, while holding offenders to account and engaging the community in the resolution of conflict. The main goal of restorative justice is to provide opportunities for both victims and offenders to be involved in finding ways to hold the offender accountable for their offending and, as far as possible, repair the harm caused to the victim and community.
This is achieved through a meeting between the victim and the offender called a restorative justice conference. At a conference, victims and offenders can tell their stories, the harm caused can be acknowledged by all present, and the offender can accept responsibility and give an apology. Finally, a discussion may be had about how to work towards putting things right.
While there is no standardised process, often an agreement will result from the conference which includes certain actions or activities to be completed by the offender as part of taking responsibility for the offending or responding to some of the underlying causes of this offending.
Restorative justice is a voluntary process. It will only take place if both the victim and the offender agree to it. In addition to this, offenders must admit responsibility for the offence before they enter the restorative justice process.
Restorative justice key facts
The Ministry of Justice Restorative justice victim satisfaction survey 2011 found that:
- 77% of victims were satisfied with their overall experience of restorative justice, before, during and after the conference
- 74% of victims said they felt better after attending the conference
80% of victims said they would be likely to recommend restorative justice to others in a similar situation
Restorative justice principles and values
In 2004, in collaboration with restorative justice practitioners, the Ministry of Justice published the collectively developed Restorative justice in New Zealand: Best practice, which provides guidance on the principles of best practice for delivering restorative justice in New Zealand, and explains the values which underpin restorative justice processes.
There are eight pinciples of best practice for restorative justice processes in criminal cases.
- Restorative justice processes are underpinned by voluntariness.
- Full participation of the victim and offender should be encouraged.
- Effective participation requires that participants, particularly the victim and offender, are well informed.
- Restorative justice processes must hold the offender accountable.
- Flexibility and responsiveness are inherent characteristics of restorative justice processes.
- Emotional and physical safety of participants is an over-riding concern.
- Restorative justice providers (and Facilitators) must ensure the delivery of an effective process.
- Restorative justice processes should only be undertaken in appropriate cases.
Core restorative justice values
In addition to the principles above, restorative justice processes operate with the following values: participation, respect, honesty, humility, interconnectedness, accountability, empowerment, and hope.
Restorative justice in family violence and sexual offending cases
The Ministry of Justice has developed Restorative justice standards for family violence cases (2013) and Restorative justice standards for sexual offending cases (2013). In developing these standards the ministry recognises:
- the paramountcy of victim safety
- that specialist family violence knowledge skills and processes are required for restorative justice processes to be a safe and effective process
- the need for specialist professional supervision.
The additional safeguards that are provided for in the standards for family violence and sexual offending cases are necessary to deal with the complex or chronic impact harm in such cases. These standards will ensure guidance and consistency in practice as well ensure the safety of all participants in the process.
The ministry plans to revise the 2004 guidelines in order to develop a cohesive standard for the range of restorative justice services. However, until then the standards for family violence and sexual offending cases and the original guidelines should be read together to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the service, protocols and standards expected of providers.
Restorative justice in legislation
Restorative justice processes are formally recognised in the Sentencing, Parole and Victims' Rights Acts 2002 and the Corrections Act 2004. The Acts encourage the use of restorative justice wherever appropriate.
The Sentencing and Parole Acts specify that where restorative justice processes have taken place the outcomes have to be taken into account in decisions about the sentencing and parole of offenders.