Sunday, 6 April 2008

Semi-Plenary 1: Brian Fitzpatrick - Restorative Justice an Irish Perspective: Reflections on the National Commission on Restorative Justice

Mr Fitzpatrick of the National Commission on Restorative Justice, began by outlining who is on the National Commission. The committee has representation from the Gardai, the Courts Service, the Probation Service, the Principal Prosecution solicitor and two lay members. The recent Joint Oireachtas Committee report was significant in the area of restorative justice (RJ) as it had cross party consensus, this helps to create momentum. The report recommended more use of RJ, put it on a statutory footing, foster judicial interest and to profile the benefits of RJ for victims.

He then went onto examine what exactly RJ is. Like O’ Mahony he conceded there was no unanimous idea of what it is and he gave a sample of the definitions available. It offers the victim fairness, respect and satisfaction. It offers them the opportunity to speak, participate in the outcome and to receive an apology. It offers the offender a greater appreciation of the harm caused and hopefully a positive impact on recidivism. It empowers the community via involvement.

Over 80 countries use some form of RJ, with Canada having 12 distinct models. Fitzpatrick pointed out that many models of RJ are rooted in the community and address cultural and ethnic issues. He then went on to highlight how RJ is used throughout the world and its use in both adult and juvenile cases. After this brief discussion he focused his attention on Ireland how we have used RJ. He focused mainly on the Garda Diversion Programme. He applauded the Gardai’s commitment and professionalism in helping with implementation of the 2001 Children Act. There was a 93% satisfaction for victims in the restorative approach. Juveniles said it was not an easy option. There was a 33% reconviction rate of juveniles subsequent to diversion. Fitzpatrick pointed to the distinct advantage of having both the victim and the offender’s family involved.

He went on to point out that RJ in the future will only be one of a number of options available to the criminal justice system, it will not overtake the existing system but offers some distinct benefits. He pointed out the large number of people receiving sentences of six months or less. It is his belief that if more of them were diverted there would be better outcomes for both victims and offenders.

He concluded by saying that RJ has now gained a foothold in Ireland and can be used as an alternative to tackle crime. It is limited but growing and the Commission’s task is a work in progress.

Summary provided by LL.M (Criminal Justice) candidate, John Cronin

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