In Denmark, most people know of restorative justice from the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa. The peaceful transition from Apartheid to a working democracy has become a model example of the principles of restorative justice*. These principles, however, are far older than the aftermath of South African apartheid.
Vibeke Vindeløv, Professor and Doctorate at the Faculty of Law at University of Copenhagen, who is also an educator at the Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution, writes of conflict counsels and restorative justice in her book Conflict Mediation- A Reflexive Model:
Conflict Counsels are symptomatic of a widening of the understanding of the concept of justice, normally used by criminal law. Traditionally, violations of criminal law are seen as violations against the state. The consequence hereof is that the victim, who has been the direct object of the perpetrators action, has the sole function of witness in the process, wherein the State, in this case, the criminal courts, decide which punishment the perpetrator is to be sentenced.
Victims often find this position both humiliating and alienating. The victim might take offence to the fact that the perpetrator’s social and mental circumstances are taken into consideration and none such consideration is taken of the victim’s condition and circumstances.
With this in mind, the establishment of a program of conflict counsel, with the aims of restoring the damage done, is a great leap forward. In restorative justice, a concept which by no means has any clear definition, a conflict is seen as having three parties: the perpetrator, the victim and the state/community. Any crime is considered partly a violation of the victim, who is conflicted direct suffering, and partly a violation of the communal moral code and hence the community itself. Both parties are in need of restoration.
Restorative justice also recognizes the need of the perpetrator to regain his or her position as a worthy member of society. This is accomplished by a commitment to make good what he or she has done wrong. The purpose of restorative justice is therefore to take into account the needs of the victim while at the same time taking in to consideration the needs and options of the perpetrator. The restoration is done to benefit the community and to prevent that the deed has further destructive consequences.
(Author’s translation, Vibeke Vindeløv, Konfliktmægling- en refleksiv model, Jurist- og Økonomforbundets Forlag, 2008.)
Many of these thoughts were also part of the founding thoughts behind the Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution, even if they were not expressed explicitly as restorative justice. In recent years, the tenets of restorative justice have come to the forefront and are now incorporated as a central focal point in the centre’s work, nationally as well as internationally.
In Denmark the most visible sign of restorative justice being implemented, is a, relatively, new law which entered into force January 1. 2010. The law establishes a permanent program of conflict counsel. Several mediators, educated by, and working with the Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution, have been involved in aspects of the work regarding the new law.
Most recently, the centre delivered a written consultation to the committee on conflict counsel under the Justice Department regarding the experiences and knowledge the centre has on the subject.
The notion of restorative justice permeates the entire structure of the Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution. All the centre’s activities: mediation, assistance with establishing Conflict managing Cultures in the workplace, the pioneer work the centre has participated in regarding Children and Young Adults and our international collaborations are all founded on the principles that also govern the concept of restorative justice.
10/6-2010, Erik Helvard, the Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution
* ref: UBUNTU and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Process 2010