What exactly is Restorative Justice?

Much of the discussion on Restorative Justice in Northern Ireland has essentially taken place around certain important political considerations. Indeed, local activists will have received something of a moral boost when new member of the Policing Board Brendan Duddy voiced his support for both the concept and the practice. But what hasn’t ever significantly broken water into the wider discourse is what is it all about. By happy coincidence, this week’s Moral Maze provides a politically neutral (at least in NI terms) frame in which to examine the concept of restorative justice. It’s kicks off not on a council estate, but with Jack Profumo who died last week.

  • BogExile

    I have pretty extensive knowledge of restorative justice with young offenders in England. RJ is actually championed as a concept nationally by the former Chief Constable of Thames Valley, Sir Charles Pollard who has got Downing Street backing for it’s introduction for juvenile offenders where the results can be pretty dramatic when young people are confronted with the humsn consequences of their offending. But it isn’t a panacea. In GB several factors have emerged which are as relevant to NI as here:

    1. It cannot be used to supplant or replace the CJ system

    2. It loses its effect pretty dramatically in offenders over 18

    3. The ‘aggrieved’ must feel safe in the proceedings and there must be a recognised and skilled authority in charge to ensure consistency and closure in the process. In GB this is the role of the police. Increasingly, police community support officers are involved in this low level solution to crime. This is a debate still to be had about policing in NI and perhaps a solution to the ‘acceptability’ question.

    BogExile (Neither here nor there)

  • Jacko

    The concept was first developed in New Zealand.

  • Rory

    Last evening’s “The Moral Maze” (or “Amoral Maze” as this old cynic dubs it) on BBC Radio 4 did not concern itself with the topic of restorative justice but rather, hanging its hat on the recent death of Jack Profumo, with redemption.

    The question was – had Profumo, the disgraced British Minister for War (lovely title – so much more apposite than Minister for Defence – they should reintroduce it, don’t you think) redeemed himself by privately, quietly, anonymously (i.e. by making sure all the press let the public know of it and continually remind them of it over the years) working as a volunteer at Toynbee Hall. an East London shelter for vagrants?

    As usual all moral aspects of the question were studiedly avoided and the panel simply flouted their respective political allegiences as they do each week ad tedium. Melanie Phillips, the former mad bonkers Trotskite and currently raving loony, far right Zionist did not disappoint. Lest we foolishly harbored any vestigal feelings of human pity for Christine Keeler, she soon put us right – “She committed perjury. Do you approve of the commission of perjury?”, Ms Phillips demanded. I was so lost for a response and awe struck by her moral righteousness that I nearly forgot to beat the wife.

    Then we had the “expert witnesses”. Why Bea Campbell should be considered an expert witness on anything, except perhaps on being Bea Campbell, escapes me. But there you go. Ms Campbell seemed to think (she often seems to think, but don’t be fooled) it all had something to do with “wimmin”. God help the women, I thought, with champions like that there’s not much hope for them.

    This concept of restorative justice can too easily mean all things to all men. I, for example, nourish a warm, tender feeling for Voltaire’s dictum, later adapted by Danton – “I yearn for the day when the last princeling is hanged by the entrails of the last bishop”. Can my feelings be included in refining the concept for application. ? I sure hope so.

  • West Belfast’s top cop praised CRJ in an interview in Wednesday’s Dail yireland

  • Kelvin Doherty


    No it wasn’t first deveolped in N.Z.

    The ideas behind RJ are as old as the hills. The idea to bring together the victim and perpetrator of an offence together to ‘sort things out’can be traced back over centuries in most societies.

    To my knowledge the notion of Restorative Justice or the wording came about in the 1970’s in Canada. A Probation Officer suggested to a judge that the two young men he was working with would benefit from meeting the victim to ‘restore the relationship’..

    Bog exile

    No it doesn’t lose its effectivenss with the over 18’s. The research base from England on RJ is pretty dodgy. As you say its not a panacea but that’s not the only issue. Its also about giving victims a real say in a process that usually marginalises them.

  • Rory

    I can’t help but think that this way lies madness. What if the concept caught on and people began demanding it in situtaions other than the criminal, employer and employee, for example or, God forbid, banker and customer. There would be no end to it. Imagine if clients started demanding justice in their dealings with lawyers. Or worse, if those three Hail Marys to St Jude didn’t result in that recuperative clincher of a winning double on the last day of Cheltenham. Civilisation, as we know it, would surely collapse.

  • TL

    CRJ has been a hit all over the world. Where it differs in NI is that in ALL those other cases it is ordered by the court, who over sees the process and ensures there are no violations. Likewise, the CRJ reports back to the court so that the court can determine that there has been a satisfactory resolution.

  • ingrammartin


    We all know this is a sop to the Para militaries. It should be court appointed and we all know why it is not.


  • Jacko

    Kelvin Doherty

    You are the only person in the world who knows that restorative justice schemes were first developed in Canada.
    Everybody else who knows anything about them thinks they were first introduced in NZ – including the people of NZ.
    I’ll just ignore the cheap shot: “bringing people together to sort it out” is as old as the hills.

  • TL

    I do think having the CRJ outside of the court system puts it in new territory. There is no precedent for a running it as it is run in NI, so the CRJs around the globe cannot be pointed to as an exact analogy.

  • Kelvin Doherty


    The youth courts in NI refer cases for restorative youth conference to the Youth Conference Service, which is part of the Youth Justice Agency.


  • TL

    Thanks KD, I’ll check that out. I wasn’t aware that the courts took any part in the NI CRJ.
    What about for adults?

  • Kelvin Doherty


    Sorry, wasn’t meant as a cheap shot!

    Gabrielle Maxwell would like you to think that!

  • Kelvin Doherty


    Nothing going yet re adults from the statutory sector but the voluntary agencies CRJ and Alternatives would deal with such cases in their respective communities.

  • TL

    Is there any process to review the adult cases if they aren’t referred by a court?

  • GavBelfast

    Is it perhaps an indication that a lot of people are attracted to the thrill and (self) importance of playing the role of police and judiciary, but without the responsibilities and checks and balances required of those who actually join a proper police service or go through the ranks to the Bar?

  • abucs

    Just a few questions on the restorative justice system as it may be introduced to NI.

    Does the RJ system have any role with sentencing. Are there any mechanisms for that ?

    Also, if the defendant chooses to go to court later, is any discussions within the RJ system admissable ?

    Does the RJ system only get a start if the alleged victim agrees or is it mandatory depending on the alleged offence ?

    Also will the RJ system be organised on a cross-community basis or within communities and if so will there be mechanisms for CRJ’s from different communities to come together if the perpetrator and victim are under different RJ groups. This last mechanism may help reconciliation in the interface problems of Belfast.


  • I did a dissertation last year on restorative justice and I have to say that before doing it, I was very opposed to the idea of RJ but now having studied it I am in favour of using the underlying ideas in a number of situations but only if they can be organised correctly. For example the TRC in South Africa was a great example of Restorative Justice in theroy but in practice it was largely ineffective.

    In order for RJ schemes to be effective, communities and society in general need to be better educated. Also the powers and remits of the schemes need to be agreed upon by society and strictly adhered to by the schemes.