“Accessibility and Initiation of Restorative Justice”
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 medling.nu, 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”.