Newly appointed head of a government advisory group on justice reform, Chester Borrows, has come under fire from the Sensible Sentencing Trust for his "soft" stance on criminals.

Borrows, Whanganui's former MP, supports greater use of restorative jusitce, which brings offenders and victims face-to-face in supervised forums and can lead to reduced sentences. Borrows says the country needs to be smart, not tough, on crime.

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Former National MP Chester Borrows to head justice reform group

But Amy Chiles says Borrows is naive. " If we just let every offender learn a lesson with minimal punishment there will be no deterrent for them in the future."

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Amy Chiles.
Amy Chiles.

Chiles is a victim advocate with the Sensible Sentencing Group Trust and sister of Vicki Telfer and caregiver to Vicki's daughter.

"Eleven years ago, my sister Vicki Telfer was brutally murdered. She suffered a number of fatal stab wounds, fractured ribs and severed tendons, along with slashes, cuts and severe bruising to her petite 26 year old body.

"As result of trying to intervene, my other sister was also attacked and received numerous defence wounds and extensive bruising. All this happened while Vicki's (then) 18 month old daughter lay quietly in her bedroom next door.

"I question Mr Borrows' claims that RJ benefits everyone. I cannot think of anything worse than reliving the horror of what I know happened to Vicki, were I to attend a RJ meeting; nothing will ever be restored for my family or me. While the offender may feel they are taking responsibility for their offending through apologising, trying to put right the harm and claiming they will not re-offend, I seriously doubt it. It is probably more about if they offer to attend a RJ meeting, they hope to get a discounted sentence, or out on parole earlier."

Borrows argues restorative justice meetings can be a powerful tool in helping offenders understand the impacts of their actions and which often leads to less re-offending.

Vicky Telfer - stabbed to death 11 years ago.
Vicky Telfer - stabbed to death 11 years ago.

"There are a number of in-depth studies that show restorative justice to have big benefits for both victims and offenders. One study he cited reported a 57 per cent reduction in re-offending through restorative justice.

He said it was difficult to counter emotional arguments with reason and data without sounding cold-hearted.

"We've had evidence-based suggestions and they've run up against emotive responses and it's very difficult to have a conversation like that."
Chiles is not swayed.

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"Absolutely none of this will restore the life my deceased sister's daughter could have had. Restorative justice may benefit the offender, but for me and many others in this horrific situation, it is at the cost and pain of the victim – and again we are seeing a push for an offender based system.

"Being a victim is never a status anyone wishes for, however having the offender moved into the status of victim is incredibly offensive. Let's make something clear, while we did not have a choice in the crime committed, the offender certainly had a choice in committing the crime."

A former police officer, and Courts and Associate Justice minister under the previous National Government, Borrows will be joined by victims' advocate Ruth Money, human rights lawyer Julia Whaipooti, Independent Police Conduct Authority general manager Warren Young, psychologist Tony Ward, sociologist Tracey McIntosh, law academic Carwyn Jones and sociologist Jarrod Gilbert in the group.

He said a lot was working well in justice but a lot of it was "inefficient and not particularly safe".

"Not many people in the New Zealand public actually have confidence that the justice system is working."