Restorative justice is an informal, facilitated meeting between a victim and offender. It helps to give victims a voice and helps offenders to understand the consequences of their actions on other people. Sometimes the offender will agree to do something to help put right what has happened.
The opportunity for restorative justice takes place before an offender is sentenced in court. The judge will consider any agreements made during the restorative justice conference discussions at the time of sentencing, but this doesn’t mean that the offender will receive a reduced sentence. The judge will also be told if no agreement could be reached in the restorative justice process.
How does the process work?
A judge decides if an offender can be part of a restorative justice process with those he/she has offended against. The offender can ask to be considered (through their lawyer), or you can ask for them to be considered through a Court Victim Advisor or the Police Officer managing your case. You are under no obligation to agree to attend a restorative justice conference if you don’t want to.
You have the right to bring a support person or support persons with you. These could be trusted friends, family or whānau members, your Victim Support Worker, a community or faith leader, or a social or support worker from another agency.
A trained facilitator will separately interview you and the offender. They will check if everyone is willing to take part and what is needed for all parties involved in the conference to feel safe if they do. The facilitator will hear what each side says and decide if a positive outcome is likely. If it is, and both sides agree to take part, then a conference meeting is organised.
Even if both sides have agreed to proceed with the conference, the process can be cancelled at any time by you or the offender.
An informal conference meeting will take place between you, the offender, support people, and any other approved people – such as community representatives, lawyers, cultural support people, Victim Support, or interpreters. The trained facilitator will run the conference and is responsible for keeping everyone safe and supported.
You can request a particular location or time for the conference. The facilitator will ask if anyone would like a mihi, prayer, or other ritual done before starting or finishing the conference.
The cultural or religious needs of all participants will be considered and respected.
Everyone will be given an opportunity to talk openly and honestly about what happened. You can tell the group about the impact of the crime on you and what can be done to set things right.
Both sides will try to agree on a plan to set right the harm done, as much as possible. The facilitator will do their best to encourage some kind of agreement to be made.
Victims can have their say
If you’re invited to take part in a restorative justice conference, you can agree or decline the invitation. If you say yes, you’ll be encouraged to bring support people with you. You will have a chance to:
- tell the offender how the crime has affected you – physically, emotionally, mentally, financially, and in your daily life
- help the offender to understand the harm they caused
- tell the group how you think the harm could be put right by the offender
- help stop others from becoming future victims of that offender’s crimes by helping the offender to take responsibility for what they did.
The offender can take responsibility for their actions
During the conference an offender is given the opportunity to take responsibility for their offending, apologise to you, decide as a group how to put right the harm the offender has caused, as much as possible, and find ways to make sure they don’t reoffend.
Who runs the conferences?
The Ministry of Justice contracts community-based groups to run restorative justice services around New Zealand. In many areas Māori providers are available. The Ministry makes sure that all the providers have the required level of training and experience so the restorative justice process will be safe and supportive for everyone involved.
After the conference
The facilitator of the restorative justice conference will write a report describing what happened at the conference. This will include details of any agreements made. The judge will get the report before the offender is sentenced. You will also get a copy of the report as well as the offender, police, and probation officer.
The judge will then independently decide if any agreements made in the conference will be included as part of the sentence. The judge will be advised if you disagree with the recommendations of the conference.
You are welcome to call your Victim Support Worker about any aspect of this process
Call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.
Other useful information and websites
Download this helpful information sheet on Restorative Justice