Martin Wright: The European Restorative Justice Award Winner 2012

The European Restorative Justice Award is dedicated to recognise and celebrate outstanding contributions by individuals, groups or organisations, in the development of restorative justice within Europe. In December 2011, the Board of the EFRJ unanimously decided to designate Martin Wright as the second honoree. He follows Ivo Aertsen, the first holder of the European Restorative Justice Award.

Martin has held a number of positions, including: Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform; Policy Officer of Victim Support; Librarian of the Cambridge Institute of Criminology; a volunteer mediator in the Lambeth Mediation Service in London; a Board Member of the Restorative Justice Council in the UK; and as a Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Legal Studies at University of Sussex. To date, he still holds the position of a Senior Research Fellow at the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at De Montfort University, Leicester. He was a founding member of both Mediation UK and the European Forum for Restorative Justice and one of the key persons in the COST action on restorative justice, mainly in the working group on theory. Even after having stepped down from our Board a few years ago he continues to support the secretariat in many ways, not least as language editor of our Newsletter.

For the preparation of this laudation, I entered "Martin Wright" and "restorative justice" on Google which resulted in an excess of 20,000 hits, in conjunction with "mediation" there were some 150,000. This enormous presence in the restorative justice world and beyond has, of course, very good reasons. He is not only a commentator on the evolution of restorative justice in Europe but also one of the first scholars in Europe who had substantial influence on the development of restorative justice – and its subsequent proliferation. The list of publications, most of which have seen at least two editions, clearly indicates that Martin has posed questions long before they were discussed, if not even considered, by a greater audience. In one of the internet entries I found, he is characterized as an ‘anarchist’. This reminds me of the concluding remark which Nils Christie made in one of yesterday’s workshops: ‘quite obviously, we are dangerous…’. A closer look into the list of titles gives proof on this:

  •  ‘The Future Use of Prison’ (1974), a moderately abolitionist piece;
  • ‘“Nobody came”: criminal justice and the needs of victims’, this early recognition of the needs of victims was published in The Howard Journal in 1977, the same year (!) in which Nils Christie's "Conflicts as Property" appeared; 
  • ‘Making good’ (1982/2008) set him up as one of the true pioneers of RJ in Europe. As Vivien Stern has emphasized in the foreword to the second edition in 2008: it was nothing less than ground-breaking at that time;
  • ‘Conflict resolution in prisons through mediation’ (1984) Martin was indeed one of the first authors who emphasized the use of RJ in this context – more than 25 years before it became an issue of greater attention.
  • ‘Justice for victims and offenders’ (1991/1996) was widely considered, as the Bishop of Manchester has praised the work in the preface, to be thought-provoking.
  • ‘Restoring respect for justice’ (1996/2008) again another book which pushed us to rethink our current approaches.

Besides writing books, he is a tireless author of notes, texts, articles and other contributions related to the topic of restorative justice, both in the UK and other parts of Europe with very different target groups and audiences. Although Martin has always been very passionate in bringing forward his beliefs, he is far away from being a dogmatic or rigid person. To the contrary, he has a great sense of humor. Nevertheless his significant experience as a practitioner in the field makes his arguments persuasive. His reflections often start from very practical circumstances and experiences, and he is highly skilled to give practical advice on how to practice and implement restorative justice processes and programs. Not surprisingly, he became an honorary fellow of the Institute of Conflict Resolution in Sofia and holds a diploma from the Polish Centre for Mediation.

Another personal characteristic is his international orientation. He is a keen traveler, even today. There are probably only very few Council of Europe member states that so far have escaped him. Ivo Aertsen told me about his impressions about Martin visiting cities, running through under-grounds and metros and parks and university buildings wherever European Forum’s Board meetings and other conferences and meetings took place. He has the ability to talk to and to convince very different groups of people in very different countries and circumstances: social workers, public prosecutors, lawyers, prison governors, ministry of justice officials, university professors, and police officers to name a few.

Besides all this, another very impressive skill is his knowledge of – one can even say passion for – languages. Besides his native British he speaks German, French and Russian. In several other countries such as Poland, Spain or the Netherlands, he can easily communicate. Not enough, he has always been ready to start a lecture in the language of a visiting country. He must have collected opening sentences of his lectures in at least 25 languages. We are not sure of his knowledge of Mandarin Chinese or Finnish, but it wouldn’t be a surprise that he has a beginning mastery of them as well.

Last but not least to be emphasised here is his attention to people, his friendship and, as particularly mentioned by female colleagues of all ages, his charming character. Christa Pelikan and others have spoken about a gradual behavioral change that has been witnessed over the years, which quite obviously is a result of his involvement in the  restorative justice community. He has deviated from his pure British character in learning to like embracing and kissing. 

Martin Wright clearly deserves to receive the European Restorative Justice Award. His active involvement in the European Forum and his presence at our Annual General Meetings are cherished. Two original quotes shall illustrate his attitude:

"The philosophy of restorative justice is based on the principle that there is a better way."

"There may be no such thing as the perfect system, but the restorative philosophy offers a way of bringing justice closed to the ideal."

Michael Kilchling
Chair of the Board of EFRJ 
Helsinki, June 2012