Hong Kong should adopt restorative justice to cut repeat offences and spur understanding

Long-time locally-based barrister calls it an enlightened response to crime

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 January, 2016, 5:10pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 January, 2016, 5:10pm

Restorative justice is an idea whose time has come, except, regrettably, in Hong Kong, where it has been cold-shouldered. Restorative justice encourages victim-offender mediation in criminal cases, and can include restitution. Though models differ, restorative justice is now used in many places, with encouraging results.

Restorative justice enables victims to tell offenders how the crime has affected them, to seek answers, and to obtain an apology. Whilst not designed to replace court proceedings, it can be an alternative in less serious cases. An offender who participates in a restorative justice conference may receive a lesser sentence.

Restorative justice can also help with youth crime. In Australia, for example, it may be used as an alternative to prosecution. The young offender meets with the victim, a police officer and a conference facilitator, and, after the crime and its impact have been discussed, sanctions may be imposed, including compensation and work for the victim or the community. Conference decisions are legally binding, and the offender is, hopefully, diverted away from crime.

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In New Zealand, research showed that offenders who underwent restorative justice committed 23 per cent fewer offences over the following 12 months than did comparable offenders who did not.

In Britain, where the justice ministry commissioned an independent valuation of restorative justice, positive results were reported. Whereas it reduced the frequency of re-offending by 14 per cent, no less than 80 per cent of participating offenders thought it would reduce their likelihood of re-offending. Moreover, 90 per cent of victims who met with offenders received apologies from them, and 85 per cent of victims who participated in conferences were satisfied with the experience.

Last November, when the British House of Lords debated restorative justice, justice minister Lord Faulks said the government viewed restorative justice “as a significant way of improving re-offending rates and providing victims with a reasonable involvement with the criminal justice system”, and this reflects modern thinking.

In 2007, however, the Security Bureau announced that it did not support restorative justice for young offenders, being unconvinced it would reduce recidivism. In a nod to hardliners, it said restorative justice risked “sending a wrong message to the public that the balance is being tilted too much towards helping the offender”.

Although the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council has issued basic principles to encourage the development of guidelines and standards for restorative justice, they have not come to Hong Kong, which is a huge pity. Restorative justice works well elsewhere, and the government should revive the proposal.

Grenville Cross SC is a criminal justice analyst