Obituary of Nils Christie

           Nils Christie


With great sadness we learned that on 27 May, 2015, Nils Christie unexpectedly passed away at the age of 87.

Nils Christie was one of the most important independent criminological thinkers and an icon of the restorative justice movement. His epoch-making works “Conflicts as Property“ (1977) and “Limits to Pain” (1981) have become influential texts of restorative justice.

With the death of Nils Christie the European Forum for Restorative also lost a friend. We were honoured to have him as one of the key note speakers at our conference in Helsinki in 2012. His particular way of story telling is still in the hearts of the participants. He was loved by many scholars in the world. It is a big loss.

The European Forum for Restorative Justice will continue to honour his memory and work.

We invite everybody to share memories and feelings with us at [email protected]. All contributions will be collected and can be visited on this page of our website: see below.

The funeral will take place in Oslo on 10 June at 12 o’ clock. We invite our restorative justice community to observe two minutes of silence when the funeral begins.

Find here more information from the University of Oslo on this sad news, or hear Nils Christie’s voice in two interviews (1 and 2) given during the 7th international conference  of the EFRJ (Helsinki, 14-16 June 2012). This event is one of the many things for which the EFRJ will remember him.


Contributions from the EFRJ members in memory of Nils Christie

Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution shares the sadness at the loss of the great pioneer Nils Christie with all his friends around the world,  and the gratefullness of his vital teachings. Our work and our way of looking at conflicts is deeply inspired by his work and original thinking.
Else Hammerich
Co-founder and senior advisor of Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution”

“On behalf of the Albanian Foundation for Conflict Resolution Foundation and Reconciliation of Disputes, I would like to express our deepest regrets for the sudden loss of Prof. Nils Christie. It is the loss of a prominent personality of criminology, mediation and restorative justice.
Prof. Christie was a friend of Albania, and he has irreplaceable contribution in establishing the foundations for professional modern mediation in Albania. Many Albanian jurists, judges, mediators and others will long remember Prof. Christie for his powerful messages in the conferences organized in Tirana, in the meetings, talks, trainings and mutual visits in Norway and Albania.
We express our deepest condolences to the family of Prof. Christie.
Best regards,
Rasim Gjoka
Director Albania Foundation for Conflict Resolution & Reconciliation of Disputes (AFCR)”

“The ideas and positions of Nils Christie were so fresh and young that it is almost impossible to believe that his creativity and productivity has suddenly been stopped. I feel an ongoing thankfulness for the inspirations, which still come from his articles and lectures.
Arthur Hartmann [HfÖV, Bremen]”
“Dear friends,
Receive my deep condolences on behalf all CEP family.
With my warmest regards
Marc Cerón
CEP President [Confederation of European Probation]”

“Thank you. I am feeling so saddened by this news.
Belinda [Transforming Conflict, UK]”
Our students in the Criminology degree in San Sebastián (Basque Country, Spain) will keep reading Nils Christie and, through that miraculous process of reading classical and challenging works, they will maintain a dialogue with his ideas and thoughts. We all thank him for that encounter beyond time and space.
Gema Varona, senior researcher at the Basque Institute of Criminology and coordinator of the Criminology degree of the University of the Basque Country [Basque Institute of Criminology of the University of the Basque Country]
Besides his brilliant contributions to restorative justice, Nils was a generous and compassionate person. I never met him in person, but we communicated by email and he once sent me a draft of a paper he was working on describing some new ideas related to a discussion we had. While some of us are so busy we do not return emails, especially to unknowns, I think Nils believed everyone was special. He was at the top of his field and highly respected while he was also kindhearted, and not “too busy” even for the less popular. He will be missed, but his lessons are never-ending. “The heart grieves for what is lost while the spirit rejoices for what remains.” Sufi saying [Lorenn Walker, Hawai’i]”
Farewell to Nils
“A warrior wears armour, a lover flowers.
They are equipped according to expectations of what is to happen,
and their equipment increases chances that their expectations will prove right.
So also with the institution of penal law.”
This is one of the many quotes that made Nils Christie so famous, not only in his own Norway, but far beyond.
The quote has helped me to better understand what criminology is: the study of different ways of thinking, talking, doing about crime and conflict, and dealing with their causes and consequences in society. It is about ‘how institutions guide our thinking’, but the existence of the quote itself and the insight behind it prove that we are able to think, and to re-think, our institutions. Nils Christie was a real criminologist, with a vision as no one else. He was a critical criminologist – as criminologists should be in their daily challenges when working with ‘victims’, ‘offenders’, ‘justice systems’, ‘communities’, … where paradoxically enough pain is delivered as a reaction to suffering. But Nils didn’t like words as ‘victim’ and ‘offender’, he even didn’t like the word ‘justice’ and even not ‘restorative justice’. He was so much concerned that naming be blaming, that ordinary people would be excluded through new and sophisticated form of control.
The writings of Nils Christie have been an eye-opener for so many people worldwide. He had the knowledge, and the pen, to present his ideas in a simple and clear but extremely strong and convincing way. No surprise that ‘Conflicts as property’ is one of the most cited articles in social sciences ever. Whom of us has not referred to this source in his/her master thesis, reports, newsletters or articles?
But, if Nils was such a convincing social scientist, this was not just because of his job and his merits as an academic. This was also because of his warm personality. Although very critical, he was always extremely supportive and understanding for people, and he showed a strong personal respect. How many times I have witnessed this, meeting Nils in places all around. Do you remember his positive-critical intervention at the conference of the European Forum in Helsinki in 2012, together with the other seniors of the movement Martin Wright and Ezzat Fattah? Are we now loosing this critical and supportive generation?
‘Handling conflicts’ – as Nils preferred to call it – in a restorative way is a way of being. This finds its ground in a common feeling of human beings, in a world of deep solidarity, where people connect to each other, and to themselves. This is the point where we can find support, in order to deal with pain, to survive, to ‘contrast’ pain. This is a point above Hell, as Nils wrote in 1981 at the end of ‘Limits to pain’ (“High time that criminology pay more attention to heaven”): he was talking about the secret thread in our lives, which cannot be put into words, which we cannot possess but which we long for during all our life. What is it, that we can never reach?
“But if it should really become manifest – if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled in to the sound itself – you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say: “Here at least is the thing I was made for”. We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.”
Farewell, Nils, we don’t lose the thread.
10 June 2015 [Prof. Dr. Ivo Aertsen, Director KU Leuven Institute of Criminology (LINC)]”


Training in Croatia- Accessibility and Initiation Project

“Accessibility and Initiation of Restorative Justice”

                                                                            Forth Workshop

                                                                            Zagreb, Croatia

                                                                           March 20-21, 2014

The workshop organized in the beautiful town of Zagreb, Croatia, by the European Forum for Restorative Justice, on March 20-21, 2014, was the fourth in a series of five within the “Accessibility and Initiation of Restorative Justice” project. The co-organizers of this workshop were the Croatian and Romanian partner organizations Ars Publica, Center for Peace Studies Za Mirovne Studije and the Association of Schools of Social Work in Romania.

The workshop gathered a mixed group of 30 participants, from four different countries – Croatia, Romania, Serbia and Portugal – and with different backgrounds – mediators, victim support workers, judges, lawyers, probation officers, social workers, psychologists, university teachers, researchers and students. The high mixture of the group is due not only to their different backgrounds, but also to their specific roles within the structure of their country’s judicial system and different degrees of responsibility in the process of referring cases to mediation. The group’s heterogeneity was desired and it resulted in detailed and interesting debates on the individual and structural factors that act as barriers and hinder the increase in accessibility and initiation of restorative justice processes. The workshop put a high emphasis on mediation as restorative process, conferencing not being available in the participating countries.

The workshop was structured into four sessions during the two-days, covering different topics and training methods.

Day one, first session

Day one of the workshop started with an icebreaker exercise led by Kjersti Lilloe-Olsen, Senior Adviser at the Mediation Service in Oslo and Akershus, Norway. Participants were able to get to know each other and to share their hopes and fears concerning the next two days.
The training continued with the presentation of the “Accessibility and Initiation of Restorative Justice” project, made by Malini Laxminarayan, EFRJ Research Coordinator, which has highlighted the different factors that impede or assist parties to access mediation services, and that stimulate or discourage parties to begin the mediation procedure.
The session continued with a group exercise led by Kjersti Lilloe-Olsen that aimed at building a mind map of how mediation services are accessed in the participant countries. Thus, four maps were drawn on how mediation functions in Croatia, Romania, Serbia and Portugal. In Croatia, victim-offender mediation is available for minors aged 14 to 18 years and for youth up to age 21. Professional services for out of court settlement are available within the centers for social welfare of 24 cities, as of 2014. Mediation is free of charge and mediators are social workers paid by the Ministry of Social Policy and Youth. In Romania, a new criminal legislation came into force in February 2014, stating that mediation is applicable for two types of offences: for those where prior complaint is needed (in these cases, if mediation is successful, prosecution no longer continues), and for those punishable by imprisonment less than 7 years (in these cases, if mediation is successful, the judge can take into account the mediation agreement when establishing the sentence). Mediation is a liberal profession in Romania, meaning that parties pay a fee to the mediation office in order to enter the procedure. Close to 9,000 professional mediators were registered in Romania at the beginning of 2014, offering mediation services in all types of cases, including civil and penal cases. In Serbia, mediation cases are mostly referred by the courts to mediation centers financed by the Ministry of Justice. Here mediators can be lawyers, judges, social workers, psychologists; rules on conflict of interests exist. Approximately 700 mediators were registered in 2014, most of them being judges. In Portugal, mediation is possible only for adults, in offences where prior complaint is needed or punishable by imprisonment of less than 25 years. Cases may be referred to mediation only during the criminal investigation phase, by the prosecutor. Mediation services are free of charge for the parties, mediators being paid per case by the Ministry of Justice.
The first session of day one ended with a detailed presentation of the out of court settlement model in Croatia, made by Anja Mirosavljević, Researcher and Teaching Assistant at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences, Department for Behavioral Disorders. The Croatian model uses the Austrian and German victim-offender mediation model as template and was implemented as of 2000 with the support of UNICEF. It is now grounded in the Juvenile Courts Act of 2011, in article 72, point 3. In 2012 a number of 126 out of court settlements were reached, and a total of 1,237 since year 2004.

Day one, second session

The second session of day one started with a presentation of how awareness is raised and the campaigns that have been made in Romania since the law on mediation was passed in 2006, made by Andreea Răduț, Mediator and Trainer at Pro Training Mediation Romania. Both the Civil and Penal Codes in Romania promote the idea of accessing mediation services in order to solve the cases. Professionals such as judges, prosecutors, police officers and lawyers, have to inform parties of the possibility to access mediation and to recommend it as a solution to their conflict. In Romania, the national body that regulates mediation – the National Mediation Council – develops different projects and offers trainings to referral bodies in order to inform them on their responsibilities and develop a clearer understanding of what mediation is. Also, mass media campaigns are made, projects implementing mediation in schools, guidelines and books about mediation are published. Universities from different parts of Romania introduced subjects on mediation and restorative justice at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
The session continued with an exercise on designing awareness campaigns, led by Andreea Răduț. Participants were divided into small groups and had 45 minutes to work on an awareness campaign: who is the target group, what is the message and how is it delivered? The groups came up with different approaches, targeting both the general population, as well as professionals such as prosecutors and police officers. The common point for all groups was the idea that awareness has to be raises before or as soon as a conflict arises, meaning that the public needs to be informed, and professionals at the early stages of the criminal procedure need to inform the parties. Different messages were developed: for police officers and prosecutors “Victims are part of the community you protect”; for the general public “Mediation connects people to solve problems” or “Mediation can be satisfactory for all parties”. And different methods were proposed: video ads using famous people, free phone lines, websites, newsletters, flyers, posters, lectures/trainings, specialist journals publishing results on the effectiveness of mediation and impact on reoffending rates, victims’ feedbacks sent to prosecutors and police officers etc. Methods should be specific for each country.

Day two, first session

The first session of day two started with a presentation of victim-offender mediation and different forms of conferencing in Sweden, made by Eleonore Lind, Mediator and Counselor at, Sweden. The three basic principles were especially highlighted: restorative justice processes are voluntary, confidential and led by an impartial mediator/facilitator. Also, Ms. Lind has stressed on the need for cooperation between the mediation service and the police, prosecutor and social services.
The session continued with a presentation of the National Mediation Service in Norway, made by Kjersti Lilloe-Olsen. She focused on the development of the restorative justice spirit and the great impact of Nils Christie’s idea of conflicts as property in the structuring of the restorative justice framework in Norway. The fact that the 700 mediators that handle criminal cases are volunteers from 435 communities all over Norway is proof that restorative justice principles can be embedded into the values of ordinary citizens.
After a short coffee break, the workshop continued with an exercise on writing an invitation letter to mediation for parties, led by Eleonore Lind. Participants were divided into small groups (2 letters to victims and 2 letters to offenders) and were asked to decide upon the most important elements that the letter should include and design it. The exercise resulted into conclusions such as: the fact that letters should be designed differently for victims and offenders; they should include a short description of what mediation is and its principles; and contact details of the mediation services. Agreement hasn’t been reached among groups on the specific language that should be used, although it was concluded that the letters that are addressed to victims should use softer terms.

Day two, second session

The final session of the workshop was reserved to practicing the face to face talk with the parties, exercise led by Kjersti Lilloe-Olsen. First, a short introspection was required from participants, in order to raise awareness concerning the victim’s position into the process, through three questions at which participants had to reflect: What is the most shameful thing that I have experienced? Have I told anyone about it? Could you share that with people? Participants were afterwards divided into small groups and four roles were distributed among group members: mediator, victim, offender and observers. Key questions were exercised during the talk by mediators: What happened? What is your story? What did you do? Tell me about… ? What were you thinking? What did you feel? Who else has been affected? What was worse for you? What do you need to do? What do you need now? The exercise gave participants the opportunity to understand from an experiential perspective the powerful effect that these questions have within the mediation process and the impact on the relationship between the victim and the offender.

As a final remark, this event has proven that workshops and trainings with mixed groups of professionals, using different participatory approaches, can be a powerful advocacy tool. The participants in the Zagreb workshop have closed their final evaluation with statements that reflect a better understanding of the utility and necessity for the extensive use of restorative justice and mediation, fact which can positively impact in the long run the referral process. And last but not least, the general conclusion of this forth workshop can be summoned through the humorous quote of one young participant student that quickly became a famous informal motto for all participants at the workshop – “Mediation is cool”.


conference Helsinki (Finland), 14 – 16 June 2012

The 3 themes of the conference were victims, offenders and the larger community:

Victims and restorative justice

Although restorative justice puts victims and offenders at the heart of the response to crime, concerns are voiced about the position of victims in restorative justice practices. The European Forum is the promoter in a research project on the needs, experiences and position of victims in restorative justice. Preliminary results of this research were presented.

Offenders and restorative justice

When it comes to offenders and restorative justice, a first focus often lies with recidivism but broader issues are at stake such as offender rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.

The Community and restorative justice

As restorative justice develops, we see more ways of how it can progress to include more meaningful participation by the community, for example through different forms of conferencing and circles. Furthermore, more areas within the community can be distinguished where restorative justice practices can be used to great effect in schools and the workplace, for example.

The report of the conference will be online soon.

For now, please enjoy these videos. During the conference 2012 in Helsinki, some professors and researchers have been interviewed to give their definition of restorative justice and/or to give their opinion about the development and future of restorative justice:

Antony Pemberton   Christa Pelikan   Ezzat Fattah   Frauke Petzold   Ivo Aertsen   Martin Wright   Niall Kearney   Nils Christie 1 and  2