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Safety is Paramount

BLOGS | 22nd November 2019

Last week as part of the Restorative Practice Forum Northern Ireland’s (RPFNI) 25th Anniversary Conference, I attended a workshop on whether restorative justice can be applied in cases of intimate partner violence. For my final blog of #RJWeek, I’d like to share some of the points discussed. The workshop included representation from police, probation services, restorative justice professionals, government, youth justice agencies and women’s support organisations.

From the outset it was agreed that while there were real concerns in considering whether restorative justice would ever be suitable, no agency felt they had the right to take restorative justice ‘completely off the table’. There was also consensus that any restorative justice process should only be initiated by the person harmed, and never by the perpetrator. And, that a bespoke risk assessment, with robust testing and frequent evaluation, is required. This requires multiagency information sharing and continuous input and evaluation throughout.

There were differences of opinion as to whether restorative justice could ever be used in cases of intimate partner violence, as an alternative to prosecutorial action. It was felt by some partners that, as an addition to the criminal justice process, this may support an individual harmed to achieve person-centred outcomes. A number of partners believed that it could be offered to persons harmed as an option in achieving a level of justice or resolution, where disengagement with the formal justice process was likely. This would need careful risk management.

Safety must always be the primary aim. Wrap around support was agreed to be fundamental to every potential restorative justice conference – before, during and after. The needs of all parties had to be built into that, including speech, language and communication needs, mental health and whether children are involved. The risk of exposing or perpetuating trauma was discussed at great length, and all partners felt there must be a suitable, long-term commitment from healthcare providers to work with the person harmed, the perpetrator and family members beyond addressing the harm resulting in or part of, a conference, and into the future.

There is much international debate on the use, misuse and potential veto of restorative justice in offences of intimate partner violence, and there should be in my opinion. For this to be seriously considered we must be open to taking part in often heated conversations, fuelled by incredible expertise, fear, energy, passion, mistrust and empathy. The only thing I am clear on frankly is that we should always place the safety and wishes of those we advocate for firmly at the top of our agenda. And, this means it must remain something which can be keenly explored at every opportunity.

My thanks goes to participants for their insights as part of the RPFNI 25th Anniversary Conference (2019), and in particular to Kerry Malone, Independent Social Work Consultant for hosting such a thought-provoking workshop.