Restorative Justice and Mediation; one and the same thing? By Dionne Dury, Operations Director, Resolution at Work

January 24th, 2018

I sit on the Board for Restorative Bristol. Restorative Bristol’s vision is to become a city where individuals, agencies and services see restorative approaches as the first option for dealing with conflict.

At a meeting of the Board this month and in honour of World Justice Day on 20 February 2018 it was agreed that a number of us would showcase the work that we do at the Citizen Service point at Temple Street to include the showing of short films (of victims of crime who have engaged the services of members) as well as stands with information of the services that our member organisations can provide.

When discussing the event with my business partner, she asked me a pertinent question; Is there a difference between Restorative Justice and the work that we do (workplace mediation) and if so what is it? Although certain that the conflict resolution services that we, as a company, provide are restorative in that they aim to repair working relationships between people in conflict, I found myself unable to explain the difference between restorative practices and restorative justice. Instinctively, I felt that there is a difference given that the word “justice” suggests that it is in some way linked with the criminal justice system or possibly a form of justice for a victim, which is not applicable to workplace mediation. As a Board member of Restorative Bristol and with the forthcoming showcasing of services in honour of World Justice Day I felt duty bound to consider this question further.

In doing so, I came across an interesting article by Charlotte Calkin, Director of the Restorative Engagement Forum and restorative justice practitioner called “Restorative Justice and Mediation: is there a difference?”. In this article Calkin considers the differences between a restorative facilitation and mediation. She speaks to many individuals and agencies providing these services; including Paul Holder, (co-ordinator of the Bath & North-East Somerset Restorative Justice service & mediator at Bristol Mediation) to find out their views.

Paul Holder defines mediation as, “a facilitated dialogue, mostly used where people are in conflict. Its strength lies in the parties co-operating in joint problem solving to find a way forward which addresses the needs and concerns of both parties”. Although, as Calkin rightly points out, there are a number of different types of mediation (evaluative, transformative, mediation and arbitration to name but a few) as a mediator I would agree with Paul’s definition. I draw upon a variety of skills to shift the parties’ perspectives in a conflict situation, with a view to enabling the parties to reach a resolution to the problem. The emphasis is very much on empowering the individuals to resolve the problem and it is future focused; with a view to the parties being able to continue to work together.

In contrast, as a restorative justice facilitator, Calkin talks about the restorative justice process being less about problem solving jointly and more about the feelings behind the impact of the harm and managing outcomes. She details three questions that sum up the restorative process for her;

–        What happened?

–        Who’s been impacted?

–        What can we do to make it better?

Calkin goes on to explain that having spoken with a number of different individuals and agencies the views regarding the differences vary greatly. She says that some have a very clear definition of the difference; that if there is a clear harmer and harmed person it is a restorative process whereas if there isn’t it is a mediation. This is a similar view taken by a number of Police and Crime Commissioners who consider that if the issue is within the criminal justice arena at any level with a clearly defined “victim” and “offender” then it’s Restorative Justice but if it’s outside the criminal justice system i.e. prevention work, anti-social behaviour, neighbour disputes, schools etc. then this requires mediation. Steve Jones, CEO at Remedi does not agree with having such rigid lines of demarcation; he believes that the primary objective is to champion a “Restorative Approach” which is a catch all term beneath which restorative approaches to justice, education, conflict resolution, neighbour disputes, anti-social behaviour, education, social care, families, relationships, work place disputes etc. can all exist comfortably.

Calkin agrees that there doesn’t necessarily have to be a harmer and a harmed in order for her to be able to call her work “restorative” but she does feel that there is a clear difference in the processes followed in restorative justice work compared with mediation. The differences that she identifies are:-

–        Fewer preparatory meetings in mediation;

–        The body of the work in mediation i.e. discussing, negotiating, decision-making is done in the ensuing meetings where both parties are brought together.

Calkin believes that the reason for the difference in process is that in mediation it is often necessary for the problem solving to take place mutually and together whereas in restorative justice the facilitator is focusing on the harm and how the parties have been impacted by the harm so much of the work is done before bringing the parties together because the aim is not to create more harm or “re-victimise”.  She acknowledges that in both spaces the mediator is impartial and neutral and non-directive but in restorative practices the outcomes have been managed beforehand.

Whilst there clearly are differences in the methods adopted by the restorative facilitator compared with a mediator I am inclined to agree with Steve Jones that there is no reason why these two approaches cannot sit under the same banner of “Restorative Approaches”. Steve feels that the two practices have become blended and that the two services can learn from each other. This is certainly the vision of Restorative Bristol in bringing together multi-agencies across the city including those that are involved in both restorative justice and those providing mediation services.

Last year we re-branded from “Mediation at Work” to “Resolution at Work” as we offer much more than just mediation with our consultants being able to offer conflict coaching and facilitative services to individuals in the workplace. Speaking with Jules Cox, Director of Bristol Mediation, at the Restorative Bristol board meeting I know that they too are amid a re-branding process with a move away from calling themselves “Bristol Mediation”. Whilst I will not give the game away and reveal their new name I agree that it is much more fitting to the variety of services that they offer (of which mediation is just one).

So perhaps there is a general shift away from a one size fits all approach and given that conflicts are often highly emotional and complex I believe it is right that we do not have rigidity in how we approach the handling of conflict resolution and we should be championing all of the different approaches available to resolve conflict.

If you are interested in learning more about the restorative approaches that we and other agencies across the South West can offer, come and see us at the Citizens Service point on the 20th February 2018.




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2 Responses

  1. John Drowley says:

    I agree entirely that mediation sits comfortably under the general umbrella of restorative approaches. Mediation has its own unique characteristics however which make it different from other restorative approaches – not the least of which is the parties’ control over the outcome of the process. It is arguably the least “interventionist” of the various approaches and requires the mediator to remain impartial throughout.

    • Dionne Dury says:

      Thanks John and agree that the type of mediation we do is more about empowering the parties rather than intervening in the conflict. I am looking forward to seeing a bit more of the restorative work that the other agencies provide at the showcasing event on the 20th February.

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