Source: (2005) Presented at the 26th Conference of European Ministers of Justice, Helsinki, 7-8 April. Council of Europe, MJU-26(2005) 1. Pp. 13-28. Downloaded 8 September 2005.

The "social mission" of the criminal justice system may be understood in a variety of ways, including general prevention and deterrence, and the protection of society from crime-related evil and harm. In the present context, the issue was rather interpreted with reference to such modern developments in crime control and crime prevention that are paying special attention to concerns that are beyond the traditional focus. Here, the interest is directed towards neglected issues such as crime prevention, the role of the victim, the importance of undoing the harm done by crime and crime control, and improving the balance between the involved parties in the criminal process. Crime prevention is being extensively covered elsewhere and is on its way to become established as part of a standard approach to criminal policy issues. Therefore, the present analysis concentrates on aspects of what is presently comprised in the concept of restorative justice. Restorative justice being a rather broad and programmatic concept, the relevant concerns are represented in this report by just a few central items: victim-offender mediation, crime victim support, the prevention of re-offending and the re-integration of offenders, special restorative measures regarding offender groups with particular problems. Furthermore, the restorative role of judges and prosecutors is dealt with briefly. The questionnaire on these issues was distributed to all Ministers of Justice of the 46 Council of Europe member States, and the 40 received replies are analysed in this report. It is rather safe to presume that practically all aspects of the situation are reflected in these replies, even though the situation in some countries has not been dealt with. In some member States, principles of restorative justice have not been implemented at all, while in some other countries, the approach seems to have been adopted in a dynamic and constructive fashion, admitting however to the fact that a lot of progress still remains to be achieved even in the most advanced countries, due to the relatively brief history of international trends and recommendations regarding restorative justice. Furthermore, as has rightly been pointed out by some Ministers, solid evidence as to the benefits of restorative justice innovations of criminal justice systems remains, as yet, inconclusive. However, the overwhelming response to the restorative justice approach may be judged to have been strongly positive. Such observations would lead to three types of conclusions. First, the Council of Europe may definitely play an active and important role in promoting the restorative justice approach in its member countries both at the level of further recommendations, and collecting and disseminating experiences of good or promising practices, and also by providing technical support, expertise and advice for individual member States requiring such support, as well as promoting bilateral and regional co-operation between member States in these issues, its role then perhaps also being one of a clearing-house. Second, member States could be recommended to become more involved in learning from each other in regards of these reforms. It is often the practical experience that overrides any general principles and recommendations when trying to learn how to improve one's criminal justice system. Third, ,member States may take a more active role in promoting restorative justice principles in their respective jurisdictions since much remains to be done even in the most advanced countries. (excerpt)

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