Spotlight on restorative justice
Sep 26, 2012
....Singapore courts practice a limited form of such restorative justice. For example, the Community Court here is given sentencing flexibility and can issue the Community Service Order (modelled after the Corrective Work Order for litterbugs). It may also call for a pre-trial conference of family of the accused - and sometimes of the victim - to explore compensation and get an undertaking to attend therapy and so on. But all this is for minor crimes, and still offender-focused, not designed with victims in mind.
By contrast, some countries have legislated restorative justice processes for a broad range of crimes, including serious ones.
Many of these processes are based on aboriginal traditions in Australia and New Zealand. The Restorative Justice Act 2004 of Australia requires that "victims, offenders and their personal supporters (be brought together) in a carefully managed, safe environment" for deliberative discourse. So also the Victims' Rights Act 2002 of New Zealand and the Jugendgerichtsgesetz 1988 of Austria. Poland has had similar provisions in its Criminal Code since 1997.
These traditions honour the idea that we are all part of a larger community. So when someone is harmed, the community must come together to identify those harmed, the nature of that harm, and learn from it to help heal the broken human relationships.
Trauma can deprive the victim of voice, so regaining one's voice helps the victim overcome the trauma. Harvard psychologist Judith Herman said in her seminal 1992 work Trauma And Recovery: "Traumatic memory... is wordless and static."
Victims who are able to tell the truth about the trauma they have suffered, naming it and mourning the loss, heal better. And if the offender confesses, that does more to heal the victim psychologically than the offender's incarceration.
....Certainly more research on this issue is needed before any large-scale change of court processes in Singapore and elsewhere are due.
But for a start, the restorative justice perspective should give offender-focused justice systems fodder for reflection on how they can go beyond trying offenders to helping victims better. After all, courts are supposed to mete out justice, not just verdicts.