The controversial idea would involve allowing victims of certain sex crimes - such as historic offences or incest - to meet their offenders in a controlled setting, ask for an explanation and gain an apology or some other form of reparation.

Known as ''restorative justice'', the approach was discussed at a recent forum by respected members of Melbourne's legal fraternity, including Court of Appeal judge Marcia Neave, County Court judge Sue Pullen, prosecutor Mark Gibson and defence barrister Jane Dixon, SC.

While it is likely to prove contentious, proponents say it could help victims who want offenders to take responsibility for the harm they have inflicted, but who do not wish to go through the adversarial court process.

''It's an imperfect system that we have [presently],'' Ms Dixon told the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration conference. ''I don't think it allows for all the grey among the black and white.

''There is a capacity for dialogue, which might be more helpful than what goes on in the courtroom.''

The restorative justice approach is used in New Zealand, in a program called Project Restore. If adopted in Victoria, it would involve the victim, the offender, affected family members or third parties taking part in a ''conference'' chaired by a trained facilitator.

Justice Neave said it was an approach worth considering, particularly as figures suggest most sexual offences go unreported, and less than 1 per cent result in a conviction.

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