Restoring Justice

The adage goes “justice delayed is justice denied” but if you are in the position where a crime has been perpetrated against you, even delayed justice will do.

A relatively unknown alternative to the traditional prosecution of a perpetrator of a crime is a process termed restorative justice. Restorative justice is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders, as well as the involved community, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender.

Rather than relying on the conventional adversarial judicial process, restorative justice encompasses the same values and principles that underpin the philosophy of ubuntu. A perfect example of restorative justice was the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which was set up by the Government of National Unity in 1995. This illustrated restorative justice at its best; it is a theory of justice that relies on reconciliation rather than punishment. It promotes healing and restitution, forgiveness and tolerance and has been and still is practiced by indigenous communities in this country.

Rather than focusing on punishment, restorative justice seeks to place the victim in the same position they would have been in had the crime not occurred. It is not limited to petty crimes either and can, in certain circumstances, be used for violent and serious crime such as rape or domestic violence.

With the restorative justice process, the victim has a voice. They are not just “a passenger on the prosecutions train” but are at the centre of the process. It seeks to bring together the victim, offender and all other parties affected by the crime together and attempt reconciliation.

This process works, it reduces the rate of re-offenders, empowers the victim, and is often coupled with monetary compensation for the victim and help and forgiveness for the offender.

It is possible at any stage of the criminal justice system, with particular emphasis on bail, pre-trial diversion, plea and sentence agreements, pre-sentence process, as part of the sentence, and part of the reintegration process, including parole.

In a country with overflowing prisons, unsatisfied victims and repeat offenders, the time is now to begin considering alternatives to our conventional justice system. Let’s embrace the principle of ubuntu and restorative justice, and rebuild our communities from within.

Garry is also the host of The Laws of Life on

By Garry Hertzberg, practising attorney at Dewey Hertzberg Levy attorneys

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