Collection of writings on restorative justice now available online

Anyone with an interest in justice and law reform will want to bookmark the online collected papers of leading restorative justice advocate, his Honour (retired) Judge Fred McElrea.

Napier Library

Launched in October, the newly-curated “McElrea Restorative Justice Collection” comprises some 80 records – ranging from lectures given by Judge McElrea throughout the world, to journal articles, book chapters, articles, Select Committee submissions and interviews, together with court cases relevant to restorative justice and other writings.

With a nudge from his Honour’s wife Margaret (an experienced librarian), the McElrea collection has been put together with the assistance of editor (and trained lawyer) David Thompson, and Napier Libraries – whose website is hosting the collection. Given that the city served as an early pilot for restorative justice, this seems fitting.

Judge McElrea graduated with an LLB and an MA (first class honours) in philosophy from Otago University, then an LLM from London and a DipCrim from Cambridge University. After 18 years in civil litigation in Auckland, he served on the Auckland District Court from 1988, and was later appointed a Youth Court Judge and Alternate Judge of the Environment Court, as well as sitting on the Supreme Court of Tonga for three months in 2004. He retired from full-time judging in 2008 and part-time judging in 2013.

Most of the material in the collection dates from his Honour’s time as a judge, although not all of it was written in that capacity – but rather as a private advocate for restorative justice, who had had the advantage of witnessing firsthand the traditional “adversarial-punitive” world of the courts.

Judge McElrea’s desire to awaken readers to the potential of restorative justice – and to dispel myths about it – is evident. His passion for restorative justice was sparked by his work as a judge in the youth jurisdiction, which coincided with the introduction of Family Group Conferences (FGCs) under the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989. He found himself part of a burgeoning international restorative justice movement, and continued to advocate for the adoption and extension of restorative justice for the next two decades.

From 1994, he took a judicial lead in applying the principles of restorative justice, including in applying the provisions of the Sentencing Act 2002 to adults, integrating those provisions with traditional sentencing principles, and developing restorative justice jurisprudence in environmental offending. He also proposed introducing Community Justice (or Resolution) Centres, which would facilitate restorative justice conferences for adults in a similar manner to FGCs for youth – much of it diversionary.

Judge McElrea also chaired and co-founded the Advisory Board of Massey University’s Centre for Justice and Peace Development, and was a founding member of the AUT Restorative Justice Centre in Auckland. He has been a keen advocate throughout his career of reducing reliance on prisons, and was a founding member of the board of directors of the Canada-based International Corrections and Prisons Association for the Advancement of Professional Corrections.

Musing on restorative justice in New Zealand, Judge McElrea notes: “What New Zealand has done is good, but is far from enough. We need to make court the backstop, not the mainstream way of doing justice. Restorative justice could have a big part in this, and there would be great benefits, especially for victims, but including savings of taxpayer dollars.”

The collection was formally launched with functions at Taradale Public Library in Napier on Thursday 12 October 2017, and at Victoria University of Wellington (which has New Zealand’s only chair in restorative justice) on Friday 13 October 2017.

ADLS President Joanna Pidgeon attended the Wellington event and noted: “This collection will be a fantastic resource for the judiciary, practitioners, academics and students alike as we continue to explore the opportunities to develop restorative justice as an option in our justice system. Judge McElrea, David Thompson and the Napier Libraries are to be congratulated for their efforts.”

“Judge McElrea has been more than a mere proponent of restorative justice; he has been a leading pioneer and critic, seeking to help the field live up to its promises and potential … [and] has imagined important ways that restorative justice can be applied within the legal system while encouraging a healthier balance of system and community roles,” says Professor Howard Zehr of Eastern Mennonite University and the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice, in his foreword to the collection. “What a gift it is to have [these papers] collected in one place, accessible to researchers and practitioners.”

Papers on the McElrea Restorative Justice Collection website are freely available for download and can be accessed at https://www.napierlibrary.co.nz/collections/judge-mcelrea-papers/

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