Victims' Voice Policy Statement
The potential value of Restorative Justice, both systemically and individually, should not be minimised. Restorative Justice is quoted as; “the (restorative) process focuses on the victim and in some instances, the community. Restorative justice focuses mainly on restoring the health of the community, repairing the harm done, meeting victims' needs, and emphasizing that the offender must and can actively contribute to those repairs”
From that simple but profound statement, the victim is recognised as being of primary importance. We all know of the criminal justice system and it is just that, a system designed around the deeds, welfare and future life of the criminal. We believe for victims who wish it the appearance before them should be compulsory for the criminal. We understand and appreciate the desire for it to be voluntary, but in our society those damaged through the acts of others have no avenue to vent their often tortured feelings. We believe they should have an inalienable right to do so.
More detail and examples are noted below.
Historically, victims have been ignored in the Criminal Justice System, hence trials are held in the name of Regina v defendant. It’s always been that the law and lawyers have perceived themselves as almost an entity unto themselves. They have not until recently, and only now because they have been made to, given any serious consideration to those who have suffered and continue to suffer from the acts of criminals. Once the trial is over, as far as they are concerned, the case is closed and they move on to the next. But for those victims affected the consequences will often be life changing, and very rarely for the better. There will often be severe financial consequences and emotional scars that never heal. Quoting from one of our Trustees Victims impact statement after his son was murdered;
“The debate is always concentrated around how much time is served in prison. To give balance to this debate you need to know that families such as my own are also in prison. The only difference is ours have no walls, but our sentence is longer. We are imprisoned and limited in mind, body and spirit. To a large extent, our lives have been destroyed. Life can never again offer unlimited joy, the pleasure of seeing our son grow and develop. To become the father he was born to be. To live the rest of our lives in peace and contentment in the knowledge that our children are safe, happy and healthy. Time is supposed to heal, no, this does not happen when murder is the cause. Time allows a veneer to grow over the pain and void within, occasionally it will crack when events leave you less than able to keep emotion under control and you face the horror of the reality, it has not lessened, it is still just as raw”.
Throughout the legal process the victim or secondary victim may be gagged, unable to express their distress or rage at what has been perpetrated upon them in case it affects the trial. Where, how or when are these people allowed to give vent to all the emotions they have to contain? To the victim the perpetrator is protected, shielded from any consequence of his action, helped to acclimatise to prison life, helped to serve his time productively, helped to get ready to come out, helped when he gets out. The victim on the other hand is simply left to get on with life finding whatever help they can. There is no structure, no money, no help other than that offered by volunteers who have often themselves been in the same position.
Is it any wonder the victim feels the criminal is elevated above him?
Quoting from the Restorative Justice Consortium’s home page;
“Restorative Justice gives victims the choice of meeting their offender to tell them of the real impact of their crime, to get answers to their questions and to receive an apology. Restorative Justice can also help offenders understand the consequences of their actions and stop offending in the future”.http://www.restorativejustice.org.uk/
The term Restorative Justice is an effort to create an over-arching concept employing assumptions and processes different than those in a retributive or rehabilitative criminal justice process. The retributive process is a process that focuses primarily on the offender and the State. The retributive criminal justice system focuses on process rather than outcome. It appears that the "overriding issue is whether fair procedures are followed, not whether they produce a just result, a fair outcome for the accused, satisfaction for the victim or harmony in the community to which both the offender and victim belong." (McElrea, 1995:5). The rehabilitative criminal justice process concentrates on the needs of offenders to be rehabilitated. The restorative process focuses on the victim and in some instances, the community. Restorative justice focuses mainly on restoring the health of the community, repairing the harm done, meeting victims' needs, and emphasizing that the offender must and can actively contribute to those repairs (Bazemore, 1996). Restorative justice condemns the criminal act, holds offenders accountable, involves the participants, and encourages repentant offenders to work actively for their return into the good graces of society. Restorative justice considers crime an act against the individual and the community rather than against the State (Barry, 1995). While restorative justice programs all seem to concentrate on the concrete conflict between victims and offenders, the degree to which they directly address community needs, varies. In essence, by focusing on “conflict” restorative justice addresses the same social phenomenon for which the law uses the term crime. According to The Law Commission of Canada (1999) the starting point of most restorative justice programs is the idea that conflicts that are called crimes should not be viewed just (or even primarily) as transgressions against the state; conflict represents the rupture of a relationship between two or more people. For this reason, the criminal justice system ought to focus on and address the harm that was caused by the wrongful act. In its preface to Standards for Restorative Justice (1999) the Restorative Justice Consortium states:
“Restorative Justice seeks to balance the concerns of the victim and the community with the need to reintegrate the offender into society. It seeks to assist the recovery of the victim and enable all parties with a stake in the justice process to participate fruitfully in it”.
Excerpt from interviews in Conferencing for Serious Offences: An Exploration:
From the mother of a murdered son;
“I would have tried anything to try and ease some of the pain. … I don’t think people realize that it is a physical pain. … I tried quite a few things. I joined that support group, which wasn’t for me. It tends to cultivate this grieving cycle and not encourage you to work through it. … I thought … ‘This is not what I want to do with my life. This means that this murder is going to kill me as well as Michael.’
“I had really serious doubts about whether I wanted to have anything to do with the [conferencing] process, probably because I didn’t want the offenders to get anything out of it. … But I just felt that it might be an outlet for me. It might be a way I could tell them how much they’d hurt us and how the suffering is going to go on for everybody.
“It let me get rid of some of that anger and hatred that I built up … all the garbage I’d been carrying around for years, all the things that had been eating me up, that I hadn’t been allowed to say. So there was this big relief. I’ve gotten it off my chest, and I felt really good.
“I’ll tell you what it did do for me which is really unusual. After Michael was killed, I couldn’t remember a lot of the years before. … It was as if the whole of my life started the night Michael was killed, and I couldn’t see anything before that. … I think it was all the awful thoughts that were in my head just blocked out all the nice things. And I got that back. … I can remember all those good bits. It’s just like somebody had come through with a broom and swept away all the things that had been preying on my mind for four years.”
In this case the offenders attended voluntarily, even if they hadn’t, the fact that this mother could unburden herself was obviously of immense value. We often hear how the human rights of prisoners may be impugned, but they forget the potential value of the sense of shame that may be generated when the criminal is made to face the consequences of their actions. Hence our belief that it should be compulsory should the victims so wish.