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Restorative Justice Bill could provide escape route for petty criminals

Published:Tuesday | July 12, 2016 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck
Vuraldo Barnett

Some petty criminals could escape prison sentences while others might avoid getting criminal records altogether, based on legislation brought to Parliament that provides restorative-justice programmes as an alternative under the criminal-justice system.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck yesterday tabled the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Amendment) (Restorative Justice) Bill 2016 in the House of Representatives.

The legislation will amend the Criminal Justice (Reform) Child Care and Protection, Correction acts, as well as the 1978 Parole Rules.

The justice ministry said restorative justice is a process where parties in a dispute come together to deal with the aftermath of an offence as "a different way of thinking about crime and conflict".

The Government is hoping that the proposed changes will limit the flow of cases into a system now overburdened by more than 400,000 cases.

The proposed law, which had reached the Cabinet level of the previous administration, states that restorative justice may be considered before trial for all offences for which a term of imprisonment of no more than three years may be imposed.

Some cases of theft involving servants, conversion, tenants and agricultural products or livestock can also be considered for restorative justice before being placed before a court for trial.

In other cases which do not get automatic consideration, a court may make a restorative-justice order before the trial or before sentencing.

The consent of the offender and victim is critical to the process.

The court must later be satisfied that the issues were resolved and will start a trial or resume the matter where "there is no reasonable prospect of such resolution".

Meanwhile, certain protections are being afforded to participants as any information or admission during the programme "shall be treated as confidential and shall not be admissible in any proceedings before a court".

Where the victim is underage, consent for restorative justice may be given by the victim's parent or guardian or, in special cases, the children's advocate.

Last year, Vuraldo Barnett, the Restorative Justice Centre manager, Trench Town, Kingston, said the legislation would give people a "wider range of access to justice services".