SENATORS yesterday approved legislation to have restorative justice procedures implemented in the formal justice system.
Opposition Senator KD Knight cautioned, however, that in order to avoid any possible resistance by administrators in the justice system, such as clerks of the court, all players must be made to understand the legislation in order for it to work.
“They need to understand this Bill so that… they don’t stand in the way… ,” he stated, pointing out that training is critical and that resources must be pumped into the Justice Training Institute to assist in this regard.
“We need to have the players in the system standing together. If we are able to educate those in the system as to the purpose of this, and how it is to operate, I think it is going to have an impact. If we don’t, it won’t,” he insisted, noting that mediation is already an integral part of the justice system and that it therefore should not be difficult to bring everyone on board.
The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Restorative Justice) Act Bill, which has already been approved by the Lower House, amends the Criminal Justice (Reform) Act, the Child Care and Protection Act, the Corrections Act and the Parole Rules.
The Bill will also affect matters before children’s courts for specified offences, and is one of the rehabilitation schemes under the Corrections Act, which is aimed at rehabilitating offenders who have served time, and takes into consideration matters which fall under the Parole Act.
Senator Knight suggested that for the restorative justice programme to be successful, strong linkages should be made with other mechanisms already in the system, such as the Citizen Security and Justice Programme and the Victim Support Programme.
“This is giving the victim a voice in the system, because victims in criminal cases don’t really have a voice, they are sidelined,” he stated.
Another Opposition senator, Sophia Fraser Binns, said she was not attempting to tell the judiciary what to do, but recommended that a non-custodial sentence be given to people as far as is possible, once they agree to participate in the restorative justice programme.
“A lot of offenders, particularly first-time offenders, are given a custodial sentence and when they come out they are far worse than they went in,” she said. “So, if we are to achieve the objectives of restorative justice we have to find a way to balance, as best as we can, the objectives of the Act as well as the application of other legislation relative to sentencing.”
Among the provisions of the bill are that before opening a trial for any of the listed offences, the court may, on its own, or on the recommendation of a clerk of the court or constable, decide whether it is appropriate to refer the matter to a restorative justice programme, taking into consideration all the particulars of the case.
These offences include: any offence for which a term of imprisonment of not more than three years may be imposed; simple larceny under Section 5 of the Larceny Act, excluding larceny of agricultural products or livestock; larceny in a dwelling house; larceny from an individual; larceny by tenants or lodgers; larceny or embezzlement by clerks or servants; conversion; and any offence under Section 42 of the Malicious Injuries to Property Act.
The Bill was passed with 26 amendments.