3 Restorative conferencing with young people in Northern Ireland
A key feature of restorative justice is that it seeks to include victims in ways that conventional systems of justice do not. In Session 1 you will remember the statue of justice, a blindfolded woman holding a sword and a set of scales. The Court of Law that this figure symbolises is not a major feature of restorative justice − victims rarely appear in court, and their voice is not usually considered to be part of the process.
In restorative justice, the victim is brought into the process wherever possible and suitable. In the next two activities you will watch videos telling you how this is accomplished in Northern Ireland’s youth conferencing system.
Activity 4 Northern Ireland’s Youth Justice Agency
The adoption of restorative justice as the central guiding theme of the youth justice system in Northern Ireland is unique within the UK. Read the following.
Then watch the following video.
Transcript: Video 1
Make a note of two features you regard as positive and one negative. Doing this will help to consolidate your learning and encourage critical reflection, an important academic skill when studying complex social issues.
Putting restorative justice at the heart of the youth justice system in Northern Ireland has involved the establishment of new structures funded by the government of Northern Ireland. The Youth Justice Agency of Northern Ireland recognises that the dialogues and negotiations involved in restorative justice extend its work into many features of community life. This can include schools and other local services that need to become familiar with the principles and practice being developed.
Victims rarely play a prominent role in conventional systems of criminal justice but are central to restorative practice and principles. The next activity offers insights into what can be accomplished.
Activity 5 Facing justice, facing victims
In most conventional systems of criminal justice the victim is a peripheral figure, rarely appearing in the process. They are often seen mainly as instruments to secure a conviction rather than a person with complex needs in the process. Restorative justice challenges this approach. Watch the video at the link below, which offers an account of how restorative justice can work for victims of crime by young people in Northern Ireland:
Imagining you have been a victim of a non-violent crime, list three reasons why you might want to participate in a restorative conference, and one reason why not.
Facilitating dialogue between young people and their victims involves overcoming a number of difficulties. It can be difficult to organise, and it can be personally difficult for everyone who participates. There is strong research evidence to suggest that when victims participate, the effects are powerful and positive for all concerned. The conference sometimes offers victims a real view of the perpetrator and helps them cancel or contextualise their imagined view of them and their motivations. This evidence has helped to secure support for the Youth Justice Agency approach in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Youth Justice Agency’s use of restorative justice throughout its interventions has been widely praised for its innovative and ethically principled approach. In the next section you look at how restorative justice can make a difference even at the ‘hard end’ of the youth justice system – the use of custody.