What is restorative justice?

Suzanne Breen’s Tribune article yesterday held some shocking allegations about the complicity of individuals involved in restorative justice schemes in Belfast with serious (and decidedly non-political) crimes committed by individual paramilitaries. The issue challenges the very legitimacy of the idea of restorative justice. It may be time to track back and pick up Breige Gadd’s clear definition as to how it is intended to work:

Contrary to what you might have gathered from recent public debates, it has nothing to do with paramilitaries replacing the police in some areas. It has everything to do with courts, police and communities tackling crime in a new way. Our system of criminal justice is based on an adversarial model. The state prosecutes the accused. The accused defends himself. Both ‘sides’ present their evidence and the court, judge or jury decides on the basis of evidence presented whether the defendant is innocent or guilty. One side is necessarily pitted against the other and victims of crime, rather than being at the centre of the action, often feel left out of their own cases and allocated only a peripheral role as the presenter of evidence to seemingly belligerent legal experts. Furthermore, in the current criminal justice system the offender’s focus often is on getting ‘off’ and avoiding all responsibility for his/her actions.