Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2022 Week 08 Hansard (Wednesday, 21 September 2022) . . Page.. 2777 ..
(Question No 877)
Mrs Kikkert asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 5 August 2022:
Does the ACT currently utilise any pre-plea programs such as Victoria’s Children’s Court Youth Diversion Service or the NSW MERIT program; if so, what are those programs; if not, why not.
Mr Rattenbury: The answer to the member’s question is as follows:
ACT Policing, Courts and the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) can make referrals to the Restorative Justice Unit at pre-plea stage that can be completely diversionary, in a manner that is similar although not exactly the same as, the Victoria’s Children’s Court Youth Diversion Service.
The Crimes (Restorative Justice) Act 2004 provides for ACT’s Restorative Justice Scheme and gives people most affected by a crime – the victim and their family and friends – the opportunity to meet with an offender to discuss the harm caused and work together to determine what needs to be done to repair that harm. Participants and processes are carefully assessed by trained convenors in order to facilitate a restorative process which addresses the unique needs of participants. Restorative justice conferencing can only proceed if it is safe and meets the needs of the victim of crime.
Since the commencement of Phase Three in November 2018 victims of any offence (in ACT legislation), including family violence and or sexual offences, have been able to access restorative justice. Referrals can be made by prescribed justice agencies at relevant stages of the criminal justice process.
Referrals can be made prior to a plea where the offence is a ‘less serious offence’ (where the maximum penalty of imprisonment for that offence is less than 10 years for an offence against the person and 14 years where the offence relates to property). These referrals can be made by ACT Policing prior to a charge being sworn in the Court, by the DPP prior to the second mention in the Court, or by the Court after the second mention, so long as the child does not deny the commissioning of the offence. If the matter proceeds to a meeting, the parties agree on what can be done to repair the harm, and if those actions are completed, the referrer may determine that the
matter does not need to proceed through the criminal justice system ie is completely diversionary (however, this remains at their discretion).
While the ACT does not auspice an equivalent pre-plea program to the NSW MERIT program, it is noted that ACT Policing implement the Youth Alcohol Diversion initiative and Illicit Drug Diversion initiative, which could be characterised along similar lines to NSW’s MERIT program as both constitute pre plea diversion initiatives. To be eligible, amongst other things, the person must admit to committing the offence and the crime must not be violent in nature.
On occasions the Courts may also make a deferred sentencing order pursuant to section 27 of the Crimes (Sentencing) Act 2005.