A Radical Alternative That Just Might Work

Dear friends,

This Article from the Melbourne Age newspaper in Australia (below) does at first glance give the idea that the restorative process is radical. However, as we know, such processes occur throughout the world in various forms, but this is a mainstream newspaper with a very good commentary on the inadequacies of the court system.

The Judge raises some interesting questions that we are answering in many communities. 

Judges, when it comes to restorative justice, do not have all of the experience or the answers, for these are mostly to be found within the grass roots communities struggling to deal with the aftermath of crime and anti-social activities that bring harm and disunity.

Let's hear the authentic voices of the people trying to take responsibility, the cries for help from victims and the anguish from all of their collective friends and families. And let's note that what we have in the courts today, throughout the world, is not always fair and just, equitable and protective of human rights. Restorative practices should be and can be all of that and more. We are proud to see and hear the voices that promote effective and restorative processes that heal in the aftermath of the most serious of crimes.

Kindest regards to you all,


Dr Brian Steels
Asia Pacific Forum for Restorative Justice
Institute for RJ & Penal Reform
Consultant Academic, Lecturer, Trainer and Facilitator

A radical alternative that just might work

Editorial, The AgeSeptember 9, 2011
Restorative justice could be applied in certain cases.
WHEN one of Victoria's most senior judges and longtime advocates for law reform expresses deep concerns at a key aspect of criminal-law application, those concerns should resonate within the community at large. Therefore, the views of Justice Marcia Neave, of the Court of Appeal, on the inadequacies of the traditional court system in dealing with sex offence cases are reflective not just of perceived shortcomings within an existing framework, but of something that needs to be ? fairer and more responsive? to the victims of sexual abuse.
Justice Neave, as The Age reported yesterday, expressed her worries at the ?very, very low? conviction rates for sexual assaults. These have fallen in recent years, from a conviction in about 50 per cent of cases that went to trial in the County Court to 38 per cent in 2009-10; in addition, guilty pleas have plummeted, and the number of victims who report sexual offences to the police is less than 20 per cent. Despite substantial reforms to sexual offence laws and practices - many of them following recommendations dating from when Justice Neave chaired the Victorian Law Commission and, before that, was a part-time commissioner - they have had limited success. Furthermore, as the judge also outlined yesterday, in a paper presented at an Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration conference in Sydney, the criminal justice system is unable to deal with many sex offenders or, indeed, meet the needs of some complainants.
Far from merely criticising the present system, Justice Neave proposes a solution. Although a radical alternative, with some obvious practical and political drawbacks, it just might be workable. The process of ?restorative justice? eschews the traditional courtroom in favour of a ?conference? setting, chaired by an independent person, in which some accused sex offenders, including alleged rapists, meet their victims (or a representative) to discuss the offence, its affect on the victim and how reparation could be made. Similar procedures existed in South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and apply in South Australia, where they are part of the sentencing process for young sexual offenders. This is because of the proven effectiveness of such approaches in reducing reoffending rates.
There are clear problems associated with any introduction of restorative justice. Indeed, Justice Neave lists several: who should run such conferences, how can they successfully be combined with other support mechanisms, including sex offender management programs, and how best can victims be protected during the process. Another impediment raised by the judge is the state's current law and order priorities: ?politicians may not support this approach because they fear they will be attacked by their opponents for being 'soft on crime'.? But, as the judge is quick to point out, to compare restorative justice with an idealised justice system is misleading. More creative thinking is needed - and, indeed, it has been supplied.
The Age believes there is sufficient merit in the principle of restorative justice to warrant its consideration as part of dealing with some - though not all - sex offence cases. As Justice Neave says, the criminal justice system ?cannot meet all the concerns of victims of sexual assault. For that reason, we should experiment with restorative justice approaches for sexual offenders.? She also makes the point that these approaches ?would not be a substitute for the criminal law but would operate alongside it?.
The system could also be fairer on victims seeking not revenge but understanding and acceptance. Like the woman from an evaluation study quoted by Justice Neave: ?I just wanted some sort of validation, someone to say, 'Yes, it happened,' or for him to say, 'Yes, it happened,' and then I would have been fine.

This is


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