Chair: Martin Gill

Panellists:
Janine Carroll – Director at Restorative Now (UK)
Deirdre Leask – Youth Offending Service Team Manager(UK)
Bie Vanseveren – European Forum for Restorative Justice (Belgium)

Key points

Janine Carroll reminds us that we don’t have the right to deny dialogue and what is on offer with mediation is an opportunity for two people involved in an incident to talk. There is more to be restored than the injury caused, it is about recognition – the power of the voice is key. Mediation provides the opportunity for the restoration of lost personal dignity and the reestablishment of a sense of safety. Referring to the UN Charter of Rights Janice reminds us that there it is noted that those impacted must be at the heart of any resolution; talking and sharing experiences are remedies to many situations. Drawing upon studies of effectiveness you will witness Janine discuss impressive results in terms of positive impact, albeit that this may take many different forms. We are invited to think about reparation as ‘attunement rather than atonement, as connection not correction’.

Deirdre Leask notes that the principle of reparation is, in the UK, embedded in the response to youth offending, and is based on developing justice for people, helping them to engage in a process that provides them with an opportunity to influence outcomes. We are reminded that Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa was designed to provide a new approach to challenging injustice. Deirdre makes three points to spark thinking. The first is to consider the extent to which victims should influence and the point at which that can be interpreted as revenge. The second is to note that the third player is the community and its approach to justice can be unfair so we need to consider how to remedy this. Third, some forms of offences (such as hate crime) present a challenge, both for the criminal justice system and for reparation. Overall, there is more independent evidence of positive impact for victims although for offenders the statistics are good, better than for criminal justice. That said, this is not just about offenders ceasing crime, laying the foundations for more work later, helping offenders to change attitudes for the better are helpful starting points. That said, engaging young victims can be tricky, some fear reprisals, indeed bringing victims and offenders together is a time consuming and skilled process, it always has to be done with care, and there are many variations on practices.

Bie Vanseveren notes that in Belgium too the principal of reparation is embedded in law where every minor is offered the opportunity to engage in mediation; there are home visits to both parties to hear their stories and the aim is to look to get each involved. This is because the process is more important than the result, getting agreement is not important, it is the process of giving voice to victims from which both can gain; it is the dialogue itself that is important. Bie reminds us that offenders can be victims themselves and victims need to understand that. Sometimes attempts to mediate fail, parents of offenders may deny culpability on the part of their child or fear having to pay compensation. The key to a positive outcome is the preparation of both parties for the engagement, this is, we are reminded again, a skilled task.

Mediation is neither a cheap or easy option, and outcomes may vary. Our panellists emphasise that attempts at getting an agreement can be secondary to giving voice to victims and a learning opportunity to offenders. For the latter the process may service to develop insights which can provide a foundation which can be built upon later. For those seeking different response to crime, the varied approaches mediation will likely be attractive, albeit they present significant challenges too.

Martin Gill
2nd September 2021