of Aotearoa New Zealand
Restorative Justice Facilitator
The Restorative Justice Movement in New Zealand has entered into a Faustian pact with the Ministry of Justice and is in danger of losing its soul. The first RJ group came out of Auckland, calling itself ‘Te Oritenga.’ Six socially concerned individuals thought that the justice system was not fair to victims and that they could offer a better way of proceeding. A couple of sympathetic judges threw them a case from time to time. They worked without payment, scrabbling to cover costs with charitable grants. By 1998 the group had expanded to 18 members; growing internal tensions and disagreements caused it to blow apart.
These earliest RJ practitioners were free to proceed as they wished without any restraint from judges or other officials. Strong personalities inevitably clashed and a unity of spirit was insufficient to keep them bound together. There was no central power source, and no structure or procedures to resolve tension. They had more or less total freedom and the absence of a centralized power structure more or less guaranteed the group’s explosive fragmentation before very long.
In the intervening twenty odd years, a lot has changed. There are now 26 charitable trusts around NZ, each with its (certified) Manual of Operations. Practitioners are formally contracted to these trusts which in turn are contracted to the MOJ. There are schedules of payment, statements of best practice, formal training and accreditation, regular opportunity for I/S training. Rules and structures abound. These seem to increase regularly; if a facilitator seeks ‘endorsement’ as a Domestic Violence practitioner, they must now undergo a two hour ‘professional conversation’ in addition to the formal written application.
From an absence of controls we have moved to an (increasing) plethora of them. This can be accurately described as the process of creeping bureaucracy – it is just what happens when a government department pays people to do its bidding. Those people (in the current weasel phrase) must be ‘held accountable.’
Practitioner autonomy is now tightly circumscribed; having begun as an adjunct to the justice system, it is now firmly in the grip of the beast. This is not an unqualified good although I have the impression that many facilitators are untroubled by it, indeed, almost flattered to consider themselves part of such a prestigious institution.
The trouble is that RJ does not sit easily within the wider justice system because it is an implicit critique of it: it only exists because a number of people consider that the current Criminal Justice System has some serious and fundamental flaws which need addressing. NZ inherited its system from eighteenth century England, and only now are we beginning to realise how cruelly it treats the victims of crime, and of how inadequately it treats the criminals. In many ways, it is now a bizarrely irrational system. Only RJ stands against this in seeking to completely change the discourse by getting rid of the terms ‘victim’ and ‘offender’ and subjecting the deeply embedded notion of ‘punishment’ to a thorough critical analysis. RJ seeks to replace a punitive retributive system with the idea of restoring and repairing relationship, so that ‘justice’ becomes re-defined as ‘justice as right relationship’ in Jennifer Llewellyn’s phrase.
My great fear is that this level of understanding escapes most facilitators (it is not being taught anywhere outside the universities), and that too many of us are slowly and willingly being strangled by the MOJ’s octopus tentacles so that the radical critique offered by RJ practice will disappear without trace. Facilitators can look forward to a future of state servanthood, complete with performance appraisals every six months, a hierarchy of senior and junior facilitators each progressing annually up the pay scales, not forgetting the four weeks annual leave with one week’s extra annual leave after ten years.