The ACT now leads other Australian jurisdictions in making restorative justice available across the youth and adult justice systems. The ACT’s Crimes (Restorative Justice) Act 2004 states most explicitly that community conferencing is offered, in the first instance, to address the needs of victims of crime. This legally-enshrined philosophy has facilitated bi-partisan support for more extensive application of restorative practices across the ACT.
The ACT Restorative Justice Unit, located in the heart of Canberra, has a complement of full-time professional facilitators. From 2004 – 2016, the Unit received only youth justice cases, referred either by police or by the Children’s Court. In 2016, the Unit began receiving cases involving crimes committed by adults, but continued at that time to exclude cases involving family violence and sexual assault. Since November 2018, the Unit has also accepted cases of this nature.
In the words of the Territory Justice Minister, the 2018 changes removed “the final legislative barriers which prevented victims of crime from having access to restorative justice, simply because they were survivors of particular offence types.”
Facilitators in the ACT Restorative Justice Unit have developed guidelines for the management of this type of offence. They are continuing to increase their capacity to manage complex offences, and have established service provision agreements with educational and therapeutic service providers.
Queensland: The Department of Justice and Attorney General now provides adult restorative justice conferencing from offices in four major centres. Police, prosecutors, courts or corrective services can refer cases to the program with the consent of key parties.
New South Wales: The Restorative Justice Unit within Corrective Services pioneered the use of post-sentence group conferencing in Australia from the early 2000s.
South Australia: Several trials of group conferencing for cases where adults have offended have been conducted in the state, but the success of these trails has yet to translate into a state-wide program. The pioneering Centre for Restorative Justice continues to provide services and advocacy for more extensive restorative practices.
Tasmania: The most consistent source of services, and advocacy for more extensive restorative practices, continues to be a police officer-turned consultant. The Department of Justice offers Victim/Offender Mediation
Western Australia: The Victim-offender Mediation Unit within the Department of Corrective Services has offices located throughout the metropolitan and regional areas.
Victoria: The state’s Sentencing Act was amended in 2010 to permit Magistrates and Judges to refer to group conferences cases involving offending by adults. In the absence of appropriate programs, courts have yet to make these referrals on more than a handful of occasions. However, victims seeking a post-sentence restorative response (similar to that offered in New South Wales) may approach the Victim Support Agency.
Northern Territory: Justice reform efforts remain focused on youth justice after the 2016-2017 Northern Territory Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children. It is likely that restorative programs may be extended to applications in adult justice.