Training in the Netherlands – Developing judicial training in restorative justice

Towards a European approach

Utrecht, 6 and 7 February 2014


On the 6th and 7th of February 2014, the first training of the European project “Developing judicial training in restorative justice: Towards a European approach” took place in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The Verwey-Jonker Institute hosted 20 participants (a mix of judges, public prosecutors and a few mediation officers) and three trainers in a 1,5 day training on restorative justice. The training was set up together with two local trainers and an expert from Belgium, Prof. Lode Walgrace and a Dutch trainer. The training programme was conceived in an interactive setup between theory and practical skills on how judges and public prosecutors will implement restorative justice (RJ) in their daily work.

The current situation is that for many judges and prosecutors are unfamiliar with RJ. The focus of our training was thus twofold: to give them some in depth knowledge on RJ theory, but also to adapt them with necessary practical understanding and skills to refer criminal cases to RJ programmes.


Day One

During the programme on the first day of the training the participants were introduced to a very sensitive and RJ representative movie: Burning Bridges. The film demonstrates a group of young men burn down a historical bridge in a small town after which a conference is set up where persons of the community, the young men and their parents came together to discuss the aftermath of such a crime. This part of the programme was done to get the judges and public prosecutors informally together and to see how RJ works in practice. It already resulted in interesting discussions and ideas about different forms of restorative justice and different ways of working towards agreements and how to use this in the final sentence.


Day Two

On day two a full training programme was held and the participants were welcomed in the meeting room of the Verwey-Jonker Institute.The first lecture was given by Lode Walgrave about RJ theory and about developments and lessons learned with victim- offender mediation and conferencing in Belgium. It resulted in lively discussions afterwards.

A method called talking sticks was afterwards introduced by Maria Leijten, Dutch judge, by bringing the participants in small groups to express their first experiences and the idea of resistance from the judiciary when considering restorative justice. The participants came up in the last session with good ideas and action plans to work with RJ practitioners by increasing awareness about RJ related practices among colleagues but also among victims and offenders.

The reactions from the judges and public prosecutors in the evaluation process showed that they were satisfied with the training and expressed their willingness to attend for future similar events.


Quotes from the trainers:

Lode Walgrave, em. professor Criminology KU Leuven, gave a lecture on restorative justice theory and also talked about developments in Belgium which could be useful for the judiciary in The Netherlands. He said afterwards:

“I enjoyed working with a group of about twenty very motivated members of the judiciary. They were well prepared, receptive for the message and constructively critical. Their questions were pertinent and based on experiences. It made the session interactive and lively. In my feeling, this was an excellent meeting, reaching the objectives which were making members of the judiciary more acquainted with the restorative justice philosophy and theory, and informing the participants about concrete developments in Belgium”.

Gert Jan Slump, criminologist and trainer, co-founder of Restorative Justice Nederland, gave the mini master class on how to work with RJ said this:

“My goal during our master classes ‘making work of restorative justice’ is to make and challenge trainees mastering their own professional process. During this training judiciaries were eager and seduced to get out of their comfort zone, take responsibility in innovating their practice into a more restorative way. Great job!”

Maria Leijten, judge in Amsterdam who was chairing the sessions said that she was also inspired by the meeting:

“I noticed that the quote we used during the dinner was more than true: Involve me and I will understand. The effect of the training was that my colleague judge who knew about the pilot mediation in criminal Justice all along, was now willing, eager even, to submit cases to the pilot. Before the training he was not. A training like this makes all the difference in a field that has no time to do anything else than work away the daily cases. We developed a training that suited the professionals very well. It was diverse, challenging and to the point. THE question was why we should do this, and the answer was convincingly YES.”


One of the results of the Action plans that a group of 5 judges wrote to take back to their own Court was this:

“Dear colleagues, Friday I was at a meeting on Restorative Justice. Even though I was some what cynical at first, I got totally convinced that this is a new method that we need to embrace. Victim offender mediation is a method to take away penal grief instead of adding it. It is an additional way to do justice towards victims and society. The good thing about it is that we can integrate this method in our internal work processes. It will not give an extra burden to the normal process. It can even give enlightment, if parties find (partial) solutions themselves. Even more important is to create a larger platform for the victim and the offender for the process and an offender who takes responsibility. Finally it is also a way to show for us that we are a legal profession that is progressive and on top of things happening in society. I suggest that we make a plan.”   


With the financial support of the Criminal Justice Program of the European Commission