A man called Pete Wallis first introduced me to Restorative Justice. I had the joy of working with him for 6 years when I worked for the youth offending service in England. In his book, ‘Understanding Restorative Justice’ Pete suggests that crime creates a gap between people (Wallis, 2014). Howard Zehr, a Professor of Restorative Justice and a professional photographer, similarly refers to crime as causing a breakdown in interpersonal relationships (Zehr, 2002). More recently, the Council of Europe Draft Recommendation concerning Restorative Justice describes crime as involving a ‘violation of individuals’ rights and relationships’.
It is this gap formed by harm and conflict that Restorative Justice aims to bridge. Despite the variable use of Victim Impact or Personal Statements* (Roberts and Manikis, 2013), until their introduction in the UK (in 2001 in England, 2013 in Scotland, and elsewhere in the world in the 1980s) the criminal justice process was centred around the person who had committed the offence, rather than those harmed through it, particularly if the defendant pleaded guilty. Over the last 15 – 20 years, I have seen Restorative Justice move from the sidelines of the criminal justice system in the UK to be enshrined in legislation in England and Wales in 2013 and to become the focus of government guidelines in Scotland in 2017. In the same time period, the profile of Restorative Justice within the EU, particularly through the 2012 Victims’ Directive, and within other countries worldwide has been similarly raised, with several countries beginning to legislate for Restorative Justice.
Although there is no one agreed definition of Restorative Justice, there is a broad consensus in Europe (through the European Forum for Restorative Justice), and specifically in the UK (through the Restorative Justice Council, the Ministry of Justice and the Scottish Government), that Restorative Justice is a process that includes everyone involved in a situation of harm or conflict in decisions about the future. This means working with the person harmed (victim) as well as the person responsible (offender) in separate parallel voluntary processes with the aim of either bringing both parties together in a joint facilitated (and risk assessed) meeting or into agreed indirect facilitated communication.
‘Bridging the gap’ case notes, digital print, Clair Aldington 2018
Wherever Restorative Justice is practised in the world, it involves the same basic 3 line approach:
What are the consequences of what happened?
What does everyone need in order to move on from the harm in a safer way?
Having had the privilege over the last 16 years of facilitating many restorative face to face meetings between people harmed (victims) and people responsible for causing harm (offenders), I have witnessed the ability of these 3 lines to cross the gap between people and enable them to start their journey of drawing a line under what has happened, often in the most traumatic of circumstances.
I recently attended the European Forum for Restorative Justice biennial international conference in Tirana, Albania, which hosted over 300 delegates from around 50 countries. It was probably the most inspiring, humbling and inspirational conference I’ve attended. As Tim Chapman, Chair of the European Forum for Restorative Justice, stated in the closing session, ‘Restorative Justice is coming of age…’ I agree and think it is a 3 line force to be reckoned with.
*Victim Impact or Personal Statements give the person harmed an opportunity to tell the court how the offence has impacted on their lives. These can also be read out on behalf of the person harmed.
Roberts, J., & Manikis, M. (2013). Victim Personal Statements in England and Wales: Latest (and last) trends from the Witness and Victim Experience Survey. Criminology & Criminal Justice, 13(3), 245-261.
Wallis, P. (2014). Understanding Restorative Justice; how empathy closes the gap created by crime. Policy Press.
Zehr, H. (2002). The Little Book of Restorative Justice. Good Books.