Source: (2011) Psychiatry, Psychology, and the Law. 18(1):95-116.

Family group conferences place great emphasis on the restorative potential of the offender's apology. Apology, conceptualized as a prelude to healing, forms a sort of unspoken touchstone of restorative justice. And yet, once examined, apology emerges as a remarkably complex, variable, and fragile gesture. Even the most heartfelt apology can easily misfire. This article examines why, and does so in the context of selected Australian juvenile conferencing schemes. It commences by offering a definition of apology tailored to the contours of criminal justice. Then, by setting that definition against the empirical reality of conferencing practice, it uncovers a range of reasons for what Daly has termed the “gap” between conferencing theory and practice. There are, ultimately, limits to humans' capacities to meaningfully apologize and authentically forgive. These limitations need not be jumped upon by policymakers as” problems to fix,” but should simply be taken as delineating a boundary line of restorative justice. (author's abstract)