On the face of it, restorative justice has a lot to recommend it as a method of resolving community disputes.
As our story today explains, senior figures from various faiths around Portsmouth are being trained in several different aspects.
One is how to bring victims and the perpetrators of crime together. And few would disagree that asking a thief to think about the consequences of their actions is a good idea. If they look into the whites of their victim’s eyes they would be cold-hearted indeed to go on another crime spree.
The other strand is bringing people together to stop arguments before they become either civil or criminal court cases.
And that, in general, makes sense too. Why let a row over something that may start off as a trivial – such as one over a garden fence or suchlike – escalate into a feud? Most of us will have been involved in cases in which enmity has sprung up through either misunderstanding and a lack of communication. Having a more structured and formal way of defusing these is definitely an advantage.
However, we have a couple of reservations. One is that it should be made clear that all victims have the clear option of also going to the police. We have seen from the sadly too-numerous sex scandals in both the Christian and Anglican Churches that some institutions can be too preoccupied with reputation rather than investigation. In short, without impugning those taking part, we wouldn’t want to see restorative justice used as a way of keeping cases away from the police if it is right the law should be involved.
And there are also questions to be asked about accountability. It would be useful, perhaps, to have a mechanism in which everyone trained in restorative justice has to run through their cases in public each year. Not to identify those involved, but to make sure that the correct processes have been followed.
Restorative justice has great potential to help people live in harmony – but let’s make sure it’s overseen properly.