New legislation causing ‘incredible difficulties’ – Judge

January 7, 2015 | By More

Law-books01Restorative justice services in Christchurch have been overwhelmed by demand after legislative changes that a judge today said were causing “incredible difficulties”.

Lawyers and judges say they were not consulted about Parliament’s plans to require all cases where there was an identifiable victim to be referred for restorative justice conferences.

It has meant that huge numbers of cases that were previously dealt with by judges on the spot now have to be remanded for weeks so that a restorative justice meeting can be held for the offenders to meet victims face-to-face.

After only a short time, the new system is being seen as “clogging” the courts.

It is understood that about 70 cases a week are being referred from the Christchurch courts.

A registrar told Judge Alistair Garland in the Christchurch District Court today that Restorative Justice services in the city had indicated that it would be able to handle 10 cases a week in the three weeks beginning next Monday.

The issue arose when a case was called today which had been remanded for sentence after a guilty plea in December on a charge of drink-driving. The driver had lost control of the car and crashed into a parked car, fence, and house and it had been remanded for a restorative justice meeting.

Court staff told the judge that Restorative Justice Services had been unable to locate the victims, and defence counsel Craig Ruane said it would be inconvenient for the case to be remanded again because the offender was not allowed to drive while on bail, and he was ready to pay reparations totalling about $5000 immediately.

Judge Garland remanded the case again to February 4 for another attempt to contact the victims. He apologised to the repeat drink-driver because the case could not be finalised. “We are all placed in a very difficult situation with a situation that has not been well thought out.”

Lawyer Grant Tyrrell told the court that Restorative Justice in Christchurch could not provide staff in court because it was “overwhelmed” by the demand for meetings. “It’s not the greatest piece of draughting,” he said of the new law.

Judge Garland said it was “an appalling situation” and the requirement was creating a huge backlog.

He said: “Not only do we now have this mandatory referral, but there appears to have been no consultation between the legislature and the community. It was wholly predictable that Restorative Justice Services would be completely overwhelmed.”

Mr Ruane said it was also causing problems with the Legal Aid system. He said there had been little or no consultation with the legal profession.

“It came as a complete surprise to the judiciary,” said Judge Garland.

List courts at present were dealing with about 70 cases a day and many of those would have identifiable victims so they would need to be referred for meetings.

He said: “It may be now that this difficulty is out in the open, somebody might talk with the Bar Association and the Law Society and the police. The public might be made aware of the incredible difficulties this legislation has caused.”

He said restorative justice was an “extremely helpful process in appropriate cases”.

“But one would have thought that as a matter of common sense it would not have been made mandatory in all cases until appropriate resources were in place,” said Judge Garland.


Category: Focus

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