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Restorative justice in New Zealand best practice

The need for guidance on the use of restorative justice processes is increasingly recognised.


The need for guidance on the use of restorative justice processes is increasingly recognised. Basic principles adopted by the United Nations in 2002 encourage States to develop guidelines and standards to govern the use of restorative justice programmes. The Canadian Department of Justice has recently released a set of principles and guidelines for the use of restorative justice processes. Similar work is underway by the United Kingdom's Home Office.

Although some concern has been expressed that such guidance may inappropriately restrain restorative justice practice (which is constantly developing and changing), there is also recognition that there are some fundamental principles which should always be upheld. If these principles are not recognised and endorsed, restorative justice as an alternative response to offending and victimisation may potentially be placed at risk.

The overall agreement that exists about best practice in restorative justice is illustrated by the two documents presented in this publication. The Principles of Best Practice for Restorative Justice Processes in Criminal Cases were prepared by the Ministry of Justice, following a consultation process with restorative justice practitioners over 2003. The Statement of Restorative Justice Values and Processes was prepared by restorative justice providers in 2003 through the Restorative Justice Network. Although written from different perspectives, the documents reflect an internal consistency about the values and principles that should inform restorative justice practice. The decision to publish the Principles and Statement together demonstrates the collaborative working relationship between the government and community that is vital for the continued development of restorative justice in New Zealand.

It is hoped that this publication will be a valuable resource for all those working with, or participating in, restorative justice processes. This includes victims, offenders, community members, Judges, court staff, defence counsel and restorative justice providers. Both documents represent current thinking and may be revised at a later date, as theory and practice develop.

What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice is both a way of thinking about crime and a process for responding to crime. [1] It provides "an alternative framework for thinking about wrongdoing" [2] which, along with the values and principles underpinning this framework, suggests new ways of responding to offending and victimisation. Although restorative justice processes are not unique to Maori, they have strong alignment with Maori values such as reconciliation, reciprocity and whanau involvement.

There is no agreed definition of restorative justice processes. A number of definitions have been suggested, most of which focus on a process which involves all those affected by an offence and aims to repair the harm caused by the offending. The following is one of the many working definitions that have been developed:

"Restorative justice is a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offence and to collectively identify and address harms, needs and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible". [3]

There is no one way that restorative processes should be delivered. Instead, "the essence of restorative justice is not the adoption of one form rather than another; it is the adoption of any form which reflects restorative values and which aims to achieve restorative processes, outcomes and objectives". [4] Further discussion of the values, outcomes, and objectives of restorative justice is provided throughout this publication.

Restorative Justice in New Zealand

The application of restorative justice principles and practices in New Zealand as a response to offending and victimisation began with the introduction of Family Group Conferences for young offenders through the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989. Over the 1990s, similar principles and practices began to be applied on an ad hoc basis to cases involving adult offenders. However, it was not until the passage of the Sentencing Act 2002, Parole Act 2002, and the Victims' Rights Act 2002 that there was any statutory recognition of restorative justice processes in the formal criminal justice system.

Together, these three Acts:

  • give greater recognition and legitimacy to restorative justice processes
  • encourage the use of restorative justice processes wherever appropriate
  • allow (and require) restorative justice processes to be taken into account in the sentencing and parole of offenders, where these processes have occurred.

Although restorative justice processes can operate in a variety of ways at different stages in the criminal justice system, pre-sentencing conferencing in District Courts appears to be the most common restorative justice process operating in New Zealand. The Ministry funds 24 providers of restorative justice across the country and holds deeds with 3 voluntary providers to deliver restorative justice services prior to sentencing. Currently these providers cover 36 District Courts. 


  1. New Zealand Restorative Justice Trust (2000) New Zealand Restorative Justice Practice Manual, pg. 13.
  2. Zehr, H. (2002) The Little Book of Restorative Justice. Good Books, Intercourse, PA, pg. 5.
  3. Zehr, H. (2002) The Little Book of Restorative Justice. Good Books, Intercourse, PA, pg. 37.
  4. Morris, A. (2002) Critiquing the Critics: A Brief Response to Critics of Restorative Justice. British Journal of Criminology, 42: 596-615, pg. 600.