Source: (2000) Social & Legal Studies 9(1): 29-53.

Initiatives in mediation and reparation have developed significantly across diverse European countries, none more so than in France over the last decade. This article seeks to situate and explain the recent growth in France of the ‘Maisons de Justice’ (Houses of Justice) and victim/offender mediation they offer. This explanation is connected to an understanding of the increasingly dominant discourse of ‘justice de proximité’, its dynamics and its place within French juridical politics. The article draws upon ESRC funded empirical – observational and interview-based – research conducted in the Lyon and Paris areas during 1997. The article goes on to interrogate the implications of these institutions and practices for the present state of French criminal justice. It is argued that through the analysis of these ‘very unFrench’ legal responses we can pry open fundamental ambiguities and debates at the heart of French legal and cultural life in a period of momentous socio-legal challenge and flux. It is suggested that these institutions and practices embody, at the same time as trying to resolve, significant contradictions within French legal culture.