Martin Wright receives the Restorative Justice Council’s first ever Lifetime Award


Martin Wright accepts RJC Lifetime Award

It is  a great honour to receive this award,  but I feel a little uncomfortable at being singled out from so many others without whom, in the early days, the flag would not have been raised and kept flying.  We also owe a big debt to Jim Simon and his team for maintaining the RJC during an exceptionally difficult period, and establishing the All-Party Parliamentary Group on RJ. 

I am very glad to be here at a time when the restorative movement is buzzing with ideas:  restorative practices in schools, in mental health, a recent conference in Poland on restorative cities, and the initiative of the European Forum on Restorative Justice on environmental RJ – I am especially interested in this one, and I should be glad to hear from anyone who would like to help initiate a dialogue with Dow Inc. chemical company, about cleaning up (at last) the toxic aftermath of the world’s worst industrial disaster, in Bhopal, India, in 1984.  and

My journey which has led up to this award begins with a pamphlet of the Howard Association, in 1900, called Reparation to the injured.  William Tallack noted the paradox that the offender in prison had a roof and three meals a day, while nothing was done for the victim. 

In 1977 a victim of burglary wrote to The Times, making the same point as Tallack:  he said that offenders have the attention of probation officers, social workers and others, but ‘Nobody came to help me…, my wife’s fears…where is the justice?’  I wrote an article in the Howard Journal, entitled ‘Nobody came:  criminal justice and the needs of victims’, proposing that offenders should be taught a different ‘lesson’:  When you have done harm, you are expected to make amends by doing some good.  A recurring theme in what I have written is ‘Is it time to question the concept of punishment?’

The 1980s saw a two-year demonstration project of victim-offender mediation.  Eventually the RJC was formed.

I thought it was time to move on from the Howard League, and I applied to do a PhD (part-time) at LSE; it eventually appeared as a book, Justice for victims and offenders: a restorative response to crime (1991, 2nd ed. 2008). Having theorised about restorative justice, I wanted to gain some hands-on experience.  Lambeth Mediation Service was established in 1989.  I was one of those who trained as a mediator, and later I did some RJ work with Calm Mediation. 

Restorative justice has also developed internationally.  The European Forum for Restorative Justice, formed in 2000., obtained a EU grant to produce a book on aspects of restorative justice (Images of restorative justice theory, 2007).  Its contributors had the bright idea of meeting in a different European country each time.  I was fortunate to gain various useful perspectives on restorative justice from these travels, plus a visit to the United States while researching for my PhD.  Here are a few of them. 

Salem, Mass.:  The co-ordinator of a victim-offender programme that used trained volunteers commented that if you’re not careful, the longer they’ve been mediators, the worse they get – a reminder of the importance of continuing professional development, including learning from each other.

Washington DC:  not a fully RJ programme, but community service.  A ceremony was held at which young people who had completed a community service order received a certificate (often the first one they had received in their lives). Their families and friends clapped, and the loudest applause went to the ones who had done the most hours of community service – which was because they had committed the most serious offences.

Norway:  A nationwide service was established by the Municipal Mediation Service Act 1991. Regional mediation services, with a central administration, are funded by the state, and nearly all cases are handled by trained lay mediators.

Finland: Mediation was developed in parallel with a deliberate policy of reducing the prison population, and the Ministry of Social Affairs, not the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for it.

Austria: Restorative justice (called ‘offender-victim resolution’, Täter-Opfer Ausgleich) is provided by the probation service (but only by specialised officers).  Most of the referrals are made by prosecutors, and a high proportion of cases involve domestic violence.  

And finally Moldova:  In addition to telling us about their progress towards restorative justice, our hosts took us to a network of huge tunnels outside the capital Chisinau, a former limestone quarry.  It had been noticed that the temperature and humidity were exactly right for the storage of wines, in huge casks and thousands of bottles lining the tunnels.  Our visit ended with a dinner and wine tasting sixty metres below ground.  I hope this will serve as an additional incentive for pan-European co-operation.

I am very proud to receive this first award of its kind, and hope that there will be many more, and more significant, contributions in the future, leading to mediation in schools, community mediation, restorative cities, criminal justice that is civilised and based on reparation not punishment, and a restorative country.

– Martin Wright