Source: (2005) Thesis submitted in accordance with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the School of Social Science and Policy, University of New South Wales.

This study examines the process of Youth Justice Conferencing in New South Wales within the context of the theory and aims of the restorative justice movement. Analysis of relevant literature and theory suggests that restorative justice is a broad and encompassing movement that entails a decision making process where victims, communities and offenders come together in a joint response to an offence. Although this breadth has allowed and encouraged a proliferation of programs that respond to particular needs and particular demands of culture and social context, the consequence is that both understandings and practices of restorative justices are variable. When theoretical understandings are so varied there will necessarily be a lack of commonality in the way principles are articulated. If practice is not linked directly to principled theory it is inevitable that processes will be vulnerable at all levels to the interaction between context, situations and participant characteristics that may easily deflect the focus from the true purpose of restorative justice. This thesis attempts to clarify the restorative principles relevant to the NSW program with reference to Braithwaite and Pettit’s republican theory (1990) and their notion of dominion. In turn these principles are used to identify five practical elements to be used as a framework to guide youth conferences. Such a framework highlights potential areas for improvement in conference preparation and practice. A case study approach was used to collect data and involved the observation of eighty five Youth Justice Conferences in three New South Wales conferencing regions. As well, one hundred and fifty two currently practising Youth Justice Conferencing practitioners (Police, Conveners, Managers) in New South Wales completed a mail out questionnaire. Findings from the study suggest that conference processes are influenced by the presence or absence of five particular elements: the attendance of victims, the attendance of communities, the attendance of offender support, reparation to victims, communities and offenders and the experience of non-domination during the conference space. However, findings also suggest that ‘situational’ factors may mediate these key elements to enhance or compromise the overall process. This thesis suggests that many of the issues arising in NSW conferences result from the failure to articulate the links between restorative justice theory and practice. While in NSW such links may intentionally have been unarticulated in order to encourage a freedom within the process, in reality the lack of clarification has led to a freedom in discretion that sometimes diminishes the chance of success. Therefore it proposes the need for a more articulated translation of theory into principles that will in turn frame practice. In this way the thesis uses the normative theory proposed by Braithwaite and Pettit (1990) to provide an explanatory and ideal framework for best practice in NSW Youth Justice Conferencing. (author's abstract)