It was a high-profile burglary of items of priceless heritage, and they were going to jail for it. [... Reverend Kaa's] passionate speech won over the judge, who in a rare courtroom move changed his mind and sentenced the trio to community service terms of varying lengths.
The decision also sparked a debate over the restorative justice system – where all the parties with a stake in a particular offence come together to resolve how to deal with the aftermath of the incident and its implications for the future.
If the three burglars were truly remorseful and do not return before the courts, the restorative justice process followed by the judge's sentence will have allowed them to lead productive lives and the community will be spared the expense of jailing them.
However, if they slide back into bad ways, restorative justice procedures will be damned as being soft on crime and allowing offenders to talk their way out of trouble.
Whichever way the future unfolds, the restorative justice meeting the trio went to would most likely not have been easy for them, Denny Anker, the chairman of Restorative Justice Services Christchurch, says.
"It is a common misconception of restorative justice that it asks victims to be soft on criminals. They actually don't go soft. They can be very, very harsh and frank," she says.
"If you speak to offenders who have been through a prison sentence or a restorative justice conference, many will say restorative justice is much harder. Having to personalise those you have harmed, having to confront them and be challenged about accepting responsibility and having to confront yourself in that process is much harder for some people than being locked away or serving some other sentence."
Restorative justice points to a different way of resolving the aftermath of crime, Anker says.
"Some of us believe the current retributive system doesn't work. It revictimises victims, it doesn't acknowledge that offenders may be victims, it takes the pursuit of justice out of the hands of those offended against.
"It doesn't acknowledge that offending harms the community as well as the primary people offended against. It is not personally challenging to offenders. They're not called to account or held responsible."
That said, Anker stresses not everyone wants restorative justice or, indeed, needs it. What different victims need – and when they need it – is crucial for restorative justice to be effective.
I certainly like the idea of restorative justice. (I've said before that prison should be our last resort.) It'll be interesting to see how this case turns out...
Update: Macht has more over at Prosthesis.