Popularising Restorative Justice: How Relevant is the Critique of Informalism in Transforming Societies?

Kieran McEvoy, The Queen's University of Belfast

Given its origins as an alternative to traditional retributive justice practices and consequent emphasis on a range of informal dispute resolution techniques, this paper explores how restorative justice stands up to the traditional critique of informal justice practices in a jurisdiction in transformation. Concerns such as "net-widening" and the co-option of community based programmes by the formal justice system, the "professionalisation" of indigenous community practice, a tendency to eulogise either revolutionary or traditional "pre-capitalist" tribal forms of justice, the obfuscation of power and structural inbalances in offender\victim\justice system relationships and so forth did much to undermine progressive advocacy of informal justice in the 1970s and 1980s. This paper will examine the range of critiques advanced and relate them to data gleaned from a range of community based restorative justice programmes in Northern Ireland.

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Updated 05/20/2006