Magazine article Public Sector

Environmental Justice in Canterbury

Magazine article Public Sector

Environmental Justice in Canterbury

Article excerpt

Environment Canterbury's Regional Planning Manager Brett Aldridge says the genesis of the process came about due to the need to close a gap in the regional council's regulatory toolbox. Options for dealing with people who commit environmental offences were limited to infringement fines or prosecution.

"Fines were often too little and, while providing some deterrent, are only of financial benefit to the regional council; and conviction can be disproportionate to the level of offending. We needed something in-between," Aldridge says.

Many environmental offences aren't the result of deliberate or deceptive activities. Often the offence is the result of careless attempts at land or water use when the person doesn't realise the affect their actions will have on the environment. Environmental regulation can be complex and what is required to avoid environmental offending is often not well understood.

"We wanted a restorative process to include reparation and apology. If a person who commits an environmental offence wants to make amends, the community and victims affected should benefit. The traditional restorative justice process didn't give us the opportunity to withdraw charges where we could get a better outcome than prosecution, so we combined the principals of restorative justice with the Police Adult Diversion system," Aldridge says.

This process had been evolving over several years. Aldridge gives an example of a story that occurred about six years ago: A South Canterbury farmer, on rolling hill country, decided to fence off streams to keep stock out. But his stock still needed water - and now the stream was inaccessible. He ploughed up the centre of the stream to install a water pipe - seriously damaging the streambed and environs, which also supported an eel nursery.

Environment Canterbury laid charges and, with the farmer's agreement, trialled a restorative justice conference with affected parties, including the mnanga, Fish & Game New Zealand, Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand, and local farmers.

"It was a very powerful process; the farmer had to eyeball the people he'd affected. It was hard for him - and at one stage he considered facing prosecution rather than proceed - but he'd bought into the process and saw it through."

The offender paid for stream assessments, removed the exposed pipe, paid costs and agreed to a media statement about the offending.

Successes like this led to the formation of a rigorous process and set of criteria for Alternative Environmental Justice. Established in 2012, a total of 12 cases have now been through this process.

Aldridge explains that if an offence is deemed suitable for restorative justice, charges are laid before the District Court. The case can still proceed to prosecution if either party wants to opt out of the alternative process.

The offender and the victims attend an Alternative Environmental Justice conference.

Aldridge explains that it is possible to identify the victims of environmental crime. While in most cases the environment is the victim, representatives can be identified to take part in the process, for example, Fish and Game, Forest and Bird, the Department of Conservation, and tangata whenua.

"The offender has to admit guilt, otherwise there's no genuine desire for restoration."

A third-party provider, such as Restorative Justice Services Otautahi or Project Turnaround Timaru, holds the conference between the offender and the victims, helps decide on a restoration plan, and reports back to the court. …

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