In an ideal world, restorative justice could be the "main system" for dealing with crime and the harm it causes, with traditional court systems operating "as backup", one of the world's leading scholars of restorative justice has argued.
In a lecture to the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, Howard Zehr of the US’s Eastern Mennonite University said restorative justice in its fullest form offered the chance to create "a new physics of how we live together".
He defined restorative justice as " a value-based , relational approach to problems, conflicts and harms that focuses on needs and responsibilities and puts a premium on dialogue among stakeholders".
It was already used in practices such as victim-offender dialogue and family group conferencing, which allowed different parties to come together to talk about the impact of crime, share stories, learn from the oth er people and discuss restitution.
The traditional justice system , Zehr said, asked questions such as: what rule has been broken, who did it, and what do they deserve? In contrast, restorative justice was based on key concepts such as harm, which created certain needs, especially for victims; this in turn led to obligations, which had to be resolved through engagement.
Setting out his "ideal" world, Zehr described a justice system "pyramid", with restorative justice making up the broad base of the system, deterrence a smaller second section and "incapacitation" (including prison) a very small apex.