Restorative Justice (RJ) is a process or mechanism to resolve the harmful occurrences which take place in the society. It allows a victim and an offender to negotiate an agreement with a trained RJ facilitator to resolve a conflict to prevent a reoccurrence of an offence. The RJ disputes resolution process focuses on both victim and offender repairing the damage caused to the victim and the community. Mediation is the first step in this process.
RJ Practice have extensive roots in countries throughout the world. Among native North American, circle processes have been used for centuries as a form community justice. During the 1990s, restorative justice spread throughout the United Stated, Canada, deferent parts of Europe, Australia and New Zealand in the Criminal Justice System, in the family, in the community, in workplace and in academic settings. Since then, there has been a proliferation of new and varied models of Restorative Justice. Now RJ is on the World Map.
In this part of the world also the idea of RJ is not new. In India it is known as 'Punchayath', in Pakistan and Afghanistan 'Pukhtoon Jirga' in Middle East 'Sulaha' and of course in Bangladesh 'Shalish'. Shalish means arbitration or mediation. It is a non-judicial court of arbitration consisting of few members of the locality where they meet with the victim-offender-community to solve both civil and criminal disputes. In Bangladesh, like in many other countries, the criminal justice system focuses in law procedures and not on people. Existing legal institutions appears to have less impact at the lower levels of the society, especially at the rural level. People established village arbitrations to mediate disputes among themselves and crime rate at the village level is lower in comparison to the urban cities. Over the years the rising expenses of the legal system, inordinate delays in the disposal of cases and the huge back log of cases have adversely affected the entire scenario.
To deal with these real life situations alternatives to traditional criminal justice system are frequently being strive for. The Restorative Justice method allows victims and offenders to negotiate an agreement in a win-win situation with the help of a trained facilitator to resolve wrong-doing to prevent a reoccurrence in a safe and controlled environment. Our traditional jail system instead of repairing the offender makes him more violent and increases the chances of recidivism which means going back to the criminal behavior after punishment or release from prison.
Many argue that RJ system focuses more on the offender than on the victim. Prof. John Braithwaite from Australia who is universally known as one of the most renowned criminologists alive today arguably the father of the RJ system says that RJ system is more focused on fulfilling and satisfying the needs of the victim rather than the wrongdoer. It makes victim feel more safer because in ordinary justice system there is always a fear of revenge on the part of the offender or his family. In traditional criminal justice system either you win or you lose. But the RJ system with the help of a RJ facilitator and responsible member of the community bring the victim and the offender together to resolve the dispute arisen between them so that no future harm is caused from either of the parties. The people of the North Bengal in Rangpur where a pilot RJ project of giz and the Govt. is undergoing think that the RJ system gives them more insurance. They say that they have to suffer a lot of trouble and hassle in every step of dealing with the existing criminal justice system. Where in RJ system they all get relief almost in free, automatically, on the spot and as soon as the mediation conference is finished.
Many say that how far RJ can be effective in a country where criminal justice system is more focused on punitive theory. Prof. John Braithwaite in this issue says that RJ does not say that there is no place for punitive justice. There are some cases where the offender breaches the agreement of a RJ conference and runs off or commits further crimes. In those cases we need punitive justice system also. The most important thing is that we need more effective access to justice to the courts as well as to RJ system.
RJ is more effective in case of minor offences but Prof. John Braithwaite says that a study on violence experiment in Canberra shows 40% reduction in reoffending among serious offenders who went to RJ.
But the socio-economic and geo-political context of Bangladesh is not like Australia and other developed countries.
In most of the cases victim or his family want the offender to be punished or try to take revenge and they don't care about the RJ system. In this regard, Prof. John Braithwaite says that in his country imprisonment rate is much higher than Bangladesh and they put more people in prison than we do. Yet they are implementing the principles of RJ system to provide their people with more speedier, private, cost effective, time saving and sustainable relief. He also thinks that we can use those principles of RJ to reduce the burden of cases on our police stations, courts and the entire justice system.
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