Restorative Justice (RJ) is a theory that sees beyond the traditional sentencing method of a criminal justice system. It seeks to repair the harm rather than just imposing punishment to the offender of a crime. Under this process, the offender and the victim are brought together to discuss their problems. It allows the victim to convey their emotions and sufferings to the offender face to face.
But A practice like this is unconventional in Bangladesh. Under its current judicial setting, there is little or no room for recognizing this victim-offender relationship. With the rise of pending cases and overflowing jails, it is high time that RJ’s capability is acknowledged.
Restorative Justice can be considered as an Alternative Dispute Resolution which may decrease piling up of pending cases. Backlog of cases is the biggest obstacle in our judicial system. Around 2.3 million cases are pending with the courts across the country including the Appellate Division and High Court Division of the Supreme Court (SC), causing immeasurable suffering to the litigants. Now, the number of total pending case lying with the High Court division till March 31, 2016 were 3,99,303 (BSS, June 16, 2016). This could have been avoided if restorative justice processes were being implemented in the country.
It will be wrong to deny the existence of RJ in Bangladesh. In the Magistrate Courts of the 1st class, many honorable magistrates have been observed to apply RJ in small steps.
As an apprentice advocate, I have seen this happen many times. Usually in cases where the offender has physically hurt the victim, the magistrate asks the victim if he wants to forgive the offender. The offender at times is ordered by the judge to seek forgiveness out loud for the whole court to listen. In other times, the Magistrate calls both the victim and the offender to his private chamber to mediate between them. If the victim forgives, then the case is dismissed.
In the countryside, RJ is prevalent in the form of village courts. The country has a long history of informal dispute resolution through the shalish or the village court (Khan and Rahman, 2009). Since 2010, more than 32,000 cases have been reported to village courts across Bangladesh. Almost 25,000 cases have been resolved.
The concept of Restorative Justice is simple. It operates in four stages, namely inclusion, encountering, making amends and reintegration. With inclusion, interested parties are invited to participate and encouraged to accept new approaches.
At the encountering stage, few programs are initiated e.g., the Victim Offender Mediation (VOM), conferencing or circles. This allows victims or their family members to discuss the crime with the offender about the aftermath of the crime and how it can be fixed. The entire process will hopefully allow the victim to return to pre-harm condition, and the offender will seek out ways to re-enter the community through participation with tolerant groups in the community.
If our traditional criminal justice system is concerned, when a crime is committed, the offender is sentenced to a certain term in prison. On the other hand, the victim, although served justice, is left with a scar that they bear for a long time. The victim of a grave offence, for the rest of his/her life, is burdened with the regret, what if I could let it all out on the person who did this to me!
Just knowing that their offender is in the jail sometimes is not enough. It is when letting the offender know what impact has the offence done to the victim, would end their suffering. Here, RJ comes into play. Most of the time, the offender walks out of an RJ session regretting his/her actions as he listens to the sufferings of his/her victims.
Justice is truly served at the contentment of the crime victim. Although it is not possible to completely remove the pain of the sufferer, RJ can ease it by letting their voice be heard. While the village courts in Bangladesh are trying, it is up to every judge to make way for RJ in our judicial system.
Apart from punitive measures, the victim and offender must meet face to face in order to prevent repetition of such offences. Hence, to create an impact and make justice readily available, our legal framework must formally introduce Restorative Justice in the system.