On 25 April 2012, the city of Oxford in the UK hosted the third transnational conference on Restorative Justice (RJ) attended by over one hundred delegates from the UK and overseas. The conference was the final assembly of representatives from 8 European partner countries and co-beneficiaries collaborating on a two year project to improve knowledge and practice of RJ through a comparative study. The purpose of the two day conference was to examine Criminal Justice Systems and the allied partnerships commissioned to design and deliver RJ outcomes for victims and offenders.
The key themes of the first day and throughout the working groups on day two involved political, scientific, judicial, governance and managerial views on RJ and live case study experience. Gerry Marshall, the CEO of Thames Valley Probation Trust opened the address by setting the scene. He spoke emphatically about the collaboration between 8 European partners and co-beneficiaries to improve knowledge and practice of RJ. To this end Gerry Marshall’s words were an evocative statement defining the conference’s ambitions to overcome systemic barriers across multiple frontiers to deliver real justice for victims, offenders and society as a whole.
Crispin Blunt, MP and Parliamentary under Secretary of State for the UK Ministry of Justice, confirmed the Government’s plans, through wide consultation, to provide victims of crime with more rights and increased opportunity to participate in RJ. The Minister said the UK Government was encouraged by the findings from the Restorative Justice in practice research undertaken by the University of Sheffield (Occasional Paper 2). He announced his commitment to RJ out of court disposals (known as Community Resolution Panels) and the need for RJ pre-sentence disposals to gain the confidence of the Courts. Crispin Blunt, suggested using RJ to influence a cultural change amongst practitioners. He concluded his address by stating, “CJ systems must protect and give participants a stake in the outcomes…”
The academic and scientific expertise on RJ was presented by Professor Joanna Shapland, Professor in Criminal Justice at the University. She presented an overview of her work entitled, ‘Working together in the UK to deliver restorative justice – the lessons from practice’. Her main conclusions highlighted that recent RJ studies in European states suggest historical or cultural terms are used to describe the same things. She added that effective RJ data management instils agency accountability, provides instruments for regulation and assists the development of software. Also RJ schemes should remain independent of the general agency operations to reduce bias. Professor Joanna Shapland concluded her presentation by arguing that evaluation of RJ processes and outcomes is a specialist role and should be academically based.
Jo Tein, Managing Director of the Schleswig-Holstein Association for Social Responsibility in Criminal Justice; Victim and Offender Treatment and the promoter of the RJ project provided the conference with an historical portrayal of the role of the EU for the German political identity and for its programme of healing and prevention of totalitarianism. Jo Tein added that the Lisbon Treaty in 2007 / 2009 has embedded basic democratic principles and policy reform into practice for all its member states allowing institutions and their systems to work more effectively1. The Schleswig-Holstein Association brings together working groups, provides an advisory service to Parliament and organises and delivers national and international conferences. It also assists the development of RJ in prisons and helps increasing referrals for Victim Offender Mediation. Jo Tein announced that Schleswig-Holstein Federal State now has one of the lowest prisoner incarceration levels in Europe. This being 47 people per 100,000 of the general population.
One of the most memorable and telling accounts of RJ work was presented in a workshop by Elena Eremina from the Centre for the Protection of Minors in Archangelsk, Russia. This work has reduced the numbers of cases of problem families from 162 in 2005 falling to 92 in 2012, and gained the involvement and endorsement of the judiciary since 2010. There is now a dialogue between the practitioners, the Russian Government, Lawyers and Judges concerning the use of RJ techniques and case management principles. Re-socialisation processes of the most vulnerable take place in an educational setting. The speaker said the first RJ conference in Archangelsk occurred in January 2012.
The Oxford RJ conference was a truly unique event. The scale of the project team’s work across the UK, Central Europe, the Baltic States and the Federation of Russia is unsurpassed; bringing together experts and systems in order to develop RJ practices ultimately leading to a safe and just society. The RJ project team will gather the evidence from the action research undertaken by each partner country and co-beneficiary and publish its findings/recommendations later this year in a final report.
1 See Introduction, Preamble and Common Provisions of Lisbon Treaty, www.lisbon-treaty.org/wcm/. Author: Paul Darby, RJ Project Team Scientific Research Assistant – June 2012