Restorative justice can be used anywhere from schools to resolve bullying to institutional homes where there may be conflict, says a Canadian lawyer.
Jennifer Llewellyn, who was in Wanganui this week, says restorative justice is about relationships, the human connection, and the restorative approaches we take in all aspects of our lives.
Those places where restorative justice processes may be used include youth or adult criminal justice matters, school bullying, disorder in institutional residential homes, conflicts in the workplace, or solutions to the kind of widespread social conflict and violence which has led to truth and reconciliation commissions.
Professor Llewellyn has worked in extreme situations applying the process including South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation following the end of apartheid and Jamaica's West Kingston Commission of Inquiry after the spate of violence which left 27 people dead in 2001.
But she said the method of looking at conflict and harm - and accountability - is useful in the wider community beyond the justice system.
The Associate Professor at the Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law, and a director of the Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Community University Research Alliance in Canada, Professor Llewellyn was in Wanganui to speak to members of the Whanganui Restorative Practices Trust, local lawyers and the Wanganui District Council.
She says restorative justice is a theory of justice and a vehicle through which a community can learn together.
Furthermore, restorative justice has its roots in many common social practices which predate the rise of the nation state.
The definition of insanity is to continue to do things that are not working, she says. "We continue to treat people the way we always have - locking them away and treating them inhumanely. The closer we are to those involved, we can craft better solutions."
"We are dealing with complex social stories, not a simple victim ... not just the incident, but the causes."
Restorative justice is a way to change the way we relate to people in the future.
"That is where the safety lies. It is work that equips people how to behave in the future."
To be fully effective and fundamental to restorative justice inside and outside the justice system, restorative conferencing should involve not only the offender, the victim and a facilitator, but also family and friends of both the victim and offender who can bring insight and support to the discussion.
Professor Llewellyn says it is not an uncommon dilemma, but a very difficult one for communities as they work through issues of restorative justice, to react as some in the Wanganui community did against sex offender Murray Wilson. "It does reveal the deep commitment and capacity of Wanganui to approach these issues collectively though."
Professor Llewellyn says that in the context of justice, our expectations get structured by what the justice system has doled out. The mainstream justice system, she says, provides a backstop where restorative justice fails or where particular cases are evidently inappropriate for such an approach.
Who is Jennifer Llewellyn?
Professor Llewellyn has vast experience in the field of restorative justice. She worked for the research department of the South African Truth and Reconciliation, and in 2002 she was an expert witness on restorative justice before the West Kingston Commission of Inquiry in Jamaica.
She acted as a consultant to Health Canada advising on constitutional jurisdiction issues in 2002 and was a member of the research initiative on the resolution of ethnic conflict at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame from 2002-2004.
In 2004 she was appointed a member of the Assembly of First Nations' expert task group on Canada's Dispute Resolution Plan to compensate for abuses in Indian residential schools, and acted as an adviser to the assembly in negotiations over redress for that abuse. Later, the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established. She served on the external expert review panel for that commission.
From 2007-2008 Professor Llewellyn served as a senior consultant for the United Nations Development Programme assisting with the formulation of the National Restorative Justice Policy for Jamaica.
Professor Llewellyn is currently a member of the Working Party on Restorative Justice of the Alliance of NGOs on Criminal Prevention and Criminal Justice in New York, and a member of the steering group for the Working Party's Restorative Peacebuilding Project. She is also a policy adviser to the Nova Scotia Provincial Restorative Justice Programme Management Committee.