By Christa Pelikan
After almost 30 years of working in this field, thinking, researching, discussing – I still hold on to the three core elements I have outlined following the discussion in the Committee of Experts on Mediation in Penal Matters that took place in the years 1996 – 1999 at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
These core elements are set as differences to the elements that guide the conventional criminal justice system.
It is the participatory element as different from delegation to the authoritative decision making that prevails in the Criminal Justice System.
Then there is the life-world element that is different from an orientation towards the logic and the concerns of the system. More specific, it means starting from people’s concrete experience of having done something to another one and the experience of having suffered from somebody’s ‘doings’ from harmful acts. It is not the searching for an assessment of the criminal act according to the paragraphs found in the Criminal Code and thus establishing guilt and following from that punishment – but the concrete experiences of those concerned and following from that the attempt to set things right, to compensate, to alleviate, maybe to heal and to reconcile.
And finally, the reparative element – as different from the punitive, repressive but also as different from the rehabilitative element prevailing in the Criminal Justice System. The Restorative Justice endeavour starts with this life-world orientation
Once again: attending to the life-world means focussing on what happens between people, on the interaction, on what runs and flows in-between them. I contend, probably a bit provocatively that in the first instance, it is neither predominantly about victim’s needs nor about the offender`s reformation, but about interaction – between the individuals immediately concerned and their relationship with their wider social surrounding, community and society.
ALTERNATIVE, and especially the action research that is performed at the Viennese research site tries to apply the rationale of restorative justice beyond the realm of the criminal justice system. In the course of attending to the ‘everyday’ conflicts at micro level we see and hear about in Viennese social housing estates, the importance of the life-world element has become even more persuasive. When working with the residents of these social housing estates and with the organisations that try to provide support we are called upon to look very closely, to listen very attentively, and to interpret carefully what we have seen and heard. Only by giving room for the expressions of the life-world we can start promoting new practices of dealing with everyday conflicts, maybe even address larger societal conflicts.
Can we in this way also approach justice – restorative justice? It is, I have come to understand, a kind of justice that borders on solidarity, emerging from acting together. It is about a good way of living together, of tackling conflicts – not suffocating them, forgetting and doing away with them but using their potential to transform relationships.