The Norwegian Nils Christie wrote about this in the 1970s in his article “Conflict as Property” where he observes that “victims of crime have … lost their right to participate … the … rights to their own conflict”, and his point is all about giving back to people their property, their ownership over their conflict and its resolution.
And that’s, in a nutshell, what restorative justice tries to do today: a victim-led process that’s seeking to create a safe space where the person that has been harmed (usually called the victim) can tell the person that has done the harm (usually called the offender) how they have been affected by what has happened, how their life has been changed by it, and their sense of safety, wholeness, respect etc. The idea behind this is to give the person that has been harmed an opportunity for getting questions answered, for healing and for moving forward – and the person that has done the harm an opportunity for understanding and recognising the consequences of their behaviour on the other person, and an opportunity to put things right.
Restorative Justice is not about forgiveness – though this might sometimes be an outcome – and fully recognises that a harm can’t be undone. It’s much more about accepting the complexity of the context in which conflict and crime happen, and bringing back the simplicity of dealing with the actual people involved in it. To sum it up with Arundhati Roy: “to never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple”*.
There are practical reasons to simplify justice especially when we think about resources (like time and money) involved in our justice systems and the high re-offending rates. But the most exciting thing about restorative justice is its possibility to transform: to transform the life of a victim into that of a person that has experienced harm and can move on with it; to transform the life of an offender into that of a person who has done harm, can learn to take responsibility for this and can be given a chance again.
How much more exciting could this be if restorative justice wasn’t just a more or less known field within the justice system, but a community based approach to dealing with local issues locally, if society at large, families, communities, schools, work places could be part of this transformation, could embrace values of trust, vulnerability, self-responsibility, openness, complexity and humaneness?