What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative Justice is based on an understanding of wrongdoing that asserts:

            - Crime is a violation of people and relationships

            - Violations create obligations

            - There is a responsibility to put right the wrongs1

This understanding of conflict and wrongdoing is common to most traditional cultures and societies. In Canada, it is rooted in customary traditions of law of the Mi’kmaq people. The modern North American practice of restorative justice developed in the 70s and 80s with a strong influence from Mennonite communities.

In Nova Scotia, restorative justice is an alternative process that is used within our traditional criminal justice system (the courts). Restorative justice in Nova Scotia seeks to address concerns about limitations of the traditional criminal court. Restorative justice is focused on the needs of those involved in the justice process, rather than dictating what an offender deserves as punishment.

Therefore, rather than focusing on punishment for the accused, it seeks to address the harm caused by an offence. This gives a voice to both the victim and community that the traditional court system does not by expanding the interests of justice beyond the offender and the state.

1 Zehr, Howard (2002). The Little Book of Restorative Justice. Intercourse, Pennsylvania: Good Books.

What Restorative Justice Does

“Restorative justice requires, at minimum, that we address victims’ harms and needs, hold offenders accountable to put right those harms, and involve victims, offenders and communities in the process” – Howard Zehr, “Little Book of Restorative Justice”, p. 25.

Restorative Justice is guided by three basic pillars:1

1. Harms and Needs of the Person Harmed – Restorative justice is focused on the person harmed and their needs. It seeks to repair the harm done even when no offender is identified or apprehended.

2. Obligations of the Offender – There is an emphasis on offender accountability, responsibility, and admission of guilt. The offender must understand the consequences of their actions and make their best effort at righting the harm they have caused.

3. Engagement with Community– The restorative process promotes engagement and participation between the offender, victim and community (those that have a legitimate interest in the offence and its resolution). The process should result in mutual consensus on the proper way to address and repair harms done.

Zehr, Howard (2002). The Little Book of Restorative Justice. Intercourse, Pennsylvania: Good Books., p.22-25. 

The guiding questions of Restorative Justice

1. Who has been hurt?

2. What are their needs? 

3. Whose obligations are those?

4. Who has a stake in the situation?

5. What is the appropriate process to involve stakeholders in an effort to put things right?

What is Restorative Justice NOT

Restorative justice is not primarily about forgiving or reconciling with offenders, although either or both can result as part of the restorative process.

Restorative justice is not simply an alternative or replacement for our traditional legal system; rather, it is used in conjunction with our legal system to offer a better balance for justice.