The Opportunity of Non-Adversarial Dialogue – A practice reflection on Restorative Conferencing in South Australia

Grant THOMAS, Youth Justice Co-ordinator, Conferencing Unit, Youth Court of S.A. 1,

Winnie CHIU, Care and Protection Co-ordinator, Conferencing Unit, Youth Court of S.A. 2

1 Youth Court of South Australia, Courts Administration Authority, 75 Wright Street, ADELAIDE SA 5000,

2 Youth Court of South Australia, Courts Administration Authority, 75 Wright Street, ADELAIDE SA 5000,

Adversarial processes by definition and necessity must constrain parties to dialogue limited to the issues in dispute or for adjudication which establish the lines drawn between those parties. The Courts Administration Authority Conferencing Unit in South Australia has carriage of three separate diversionary and non-adversarial processes: juvenile justice Family Conferences child protection Family Care Meetings and adult criminal justice Aboriginal Sentencing Conferences which come together under the philosophy of restorative conferencing in pursuit of social justice outcomes. South Australia has experience from over twenty years brought to these areas of work and the Courts Administration Authority has nurtured and developed these processes to deliver alternative dispute resolution out of a predominantly adversarial environment. The evidence base of all of these processes is that, freed of an adversarial impetus, parties desire and demonstrate that there are important messages they wish to convey to each other which would otherwise be found irrelevant or inappropriate in adversarial proceedings. This paper will describe and analyse the models undertaken and reflect upon practice examples to demonstrate the types of conversations and dialogues which emerge when parties are enabled and empowered. There will be particular emphasis upon the voice of the child and of victims and how the Conferencing Unit has endeavoured through management and procedural measures to best ensure these voices are heard.


Grant Thomas is employed by the Courts Administration Authority (CAA). He has worked as a Youth Justice Co-ordinator in South Australian Family Conferencing since its inception in 1994, as a co-ordinator in the Port Lincoln Aboriginal Conferencing program and as Supervisor in the Youth Court Conferencing Unit. His work has included revision and publication of the Family Conference and Care and Protection Practice Manuals and design and implementation of CAA Restorative Justice pilot programs in the adult jurisdictions. He has presented at conferences in Australia and overseas regarding Family Conferencing and Restorative Justice practice. He has also travelled to New Zealand to participate in restorative justice seminars and has presented restorative justice and sexual assault conferencing training in other Australian jurisdictions. Grant has a background in legal practice, in conciliation in the equal opportunity/discrimination field and volunteer work in the youth and human services sectors.

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