It appears Taranaki’s restorative justice process has been a victim of its own success.
In the New Plymouth District Court on Thursday, Judge Lynne Harrison advised lawyers the Taranaki Restorative Justice Trust was “at capacity” due to the amount of work it currently had on its books.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson confirmed the Trust had advised the court it was unable to take any more referrals with a sentencing date earlier than July.
In a written statement, it believed there would be “minimal impact on those who are eligible” as the majority of cases which will be subject to sentencing before July had already been referred to the service.
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New referrals involving cases which are set down for sentencing from July will be accepted by the trust, the Justice Ministry said.
Restorative justice involves a facilitated meeting between offender and victim to talk about what happened and the impact it has had on the people involved.
It is a voluntary process and focuses on holding the offender accountable while giving a chance for the victim to have their say.
In June 2016, a $16.2 million dollar funding boost over four years was announced by Justice Minister Amy Adams for restorative justice providers.
Since a law change to the Sentencing Act in December 2014, which required courts to refer eligible cases to see if restorative justice would be appropriate, providers had seen a sharp increase in referral numbers.
In some cases, referral rates had tripled.
The Ministry of Justice spokesperson said providers worked closely with court staff to manage the workload.
“The demand-driven nature of the restorative justice service provides some challenges in predicting how many referrals will be made in one court at any one time.”
However, the Ministry was not aware of any other providers who were “currently at capacity” in terms of referral numbers.
Taranaki Restorative Justice Trust chairman Malcolm Greig said the unavailability of one of its facilitators for three weeks was the reason behind the move.
He said board members were currently working on a solution to ensure the hiccup in service would not happen again.
Results of a survey released last month stated that 75 per cent of victims who participated in restorative justice had benefited from the process, with some reporting they felt the offender had developed a genuine understanding of how the crime had impacted on them.
Data collected between 2008 and 2013 shows reoffending rates within a 12 month period for defendants who took part in the facilitated process were 15 per cent lower when compared to offenders who did not take part.