Every criminal act, more or less, is committed either to do justice or to undo injustice. Justice is the cornerstone of human relationships; a crime gives an impression or moral intuition that balance has been thrown off in the social transaction. To strike the balance sooner is not a choice but a necessity; otherwise it will erode the social fabric.
Justice is a wider and all-encompassing concept which entails continuous process: to put things at its proper place is justice. At times, codified laws, legal statutes and punitive measures are unable to fulfill its true essence. They fall short of to deliver the promise of justice. This inadequacy of legal procedures paves the way for social forces to come into play. The noble ideals of justice can be attained fully, if an all-inclusive approach is to be adopted. The criminal justice system which stubbornly insists on the fulfillment of legal formalities may, wholly or partially, advocate respect for laws, enforcement of laws and punishment for the transgressors, but the promise of justice, which ought to be the ultimate objective, sadly becomes an elusive mirage. There are certain inherent limitations of adversarial criminal justice system.
Criminal and legal justice system views crime as a violation of the laws which state has enacted, ipso facto, crime is against the state itself, where the focus is entirely on the offender who has perpetrated the wrongdoing. All efforts, including police, prosecution and judges, come into motion to punish the wrongdoing. Thus punishment is the only prescribed way to forestall the future crimes and create order in the society. This approach misses the mark; both victim and offender feel injustice in their own ways. Victim feels a sense of exclusion—a kind of disregard to his feelings. The trauma that he goes through after the criminal act, lingers on despite the fact that offender is languishing in the jail. He never gets the platform to vent out his pent up feelings.
The lengthy legal procedure creates a sense of frustration and results into the loss of confidence in the system. It emboldens the criminals to exploit the legal lacuna in his favour and carry out criminal acts unabashedly. Besides this criminal justice system widens division and discord in the society. It creates sharp classification among people based on their criminal conduct and socially aberrant behaviour. Such classifications are so watertight that there is little possibility of intermingling. An offender, no matter how transformed, is unable to create a niche for himself and improve his class. He is doomed to be stigmatised. Such categorisation erodes social integration and cohesiveness. It ensues further crimes when fault lines are drawn on social, ethnic and sectarian bases. There are dim prospects of rehabilitation in criminal justice system. It is a widely held notion that once a criminal enters into the world of crime there is no way back; neither he is intended to mend his ways, nor society is willing to show concession. The plight of prisons augments the propensities to commit crimes.
These inherent limitations create relevancy of restorative justice system as a parallel procedure where every victim deserves something and every offenders owes something. Restorative justice envisages transformation rather than punishment as the ultimate objective, where victim is the central player. In restorative justice system crime is viewed from the perspective of victim. It endeavors to understand his concerns, feelings and perspectives. It gives opportunity to the offender to sit across and express his underlying motive and intent behind the act. The members of society, as a stakeholder, facilitate the proceedings. It is a mutually shared and all-inclusive approach which aims at victim’s feeling and faith in the desire of offender to become a better person so as to repair the harm which he has caused. Restorative justice practices are humane, altruistic and empathic which recognizes the repentance of offender and magnanimity of victim. It focuses and stirs the soft human expressions. Both victim and offender feel a sense of closure after the exchange of their views. It liberates them and make them a better person with renewed sense of zeal to defeat the negative emotions. Consequently, they adopt a constructive and responsible approach. Martin Luther King once remarked, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies”.
Every criminal act leaves an emotional scar which lasts very long. A victim goes through very painful trauma, charged with revenge and committed to settle the score. No justice system gives as much respect to his inner feelings as restorative justice system. When he asks the questions from the offender: what promoted you to commit this harmful act? Can you imagine the sense of loss? Such piercing questions when answered with remorse enable him to shed vengeance and move ahead with clear conscience as an exalted individual who has literally transcended himself. It connects hearts with hearts as a healing mechanism and bring out the most noble and good from the human being.
Restorative justice system gives an opportunity to the offender to change his previous behavior. This faith in human decency encourages him to inwardly transform himself in true essence. He feels that he owes a debt to rectify the harm that he had inflicted and play his part positively as a contributor of goodness and peace. A fully transformed person is a better person than an ordinary person because he has experienced the worst of human disposition and its manifestation. Therefore, he values peace and harmony more than anybody else.
In a society like ours, we cannot practically substitute the idealism of restorative justice system, but we can certainly supplement it as a dispute resolution mechanism for quick dispensation of justice. Jirga/ Panchayat has been in vogue for centuries, our society still gives respects to the elders who are committed to resolve the wrongdoings, success of DRCs (Dispute Resolution Committees) bears this out in KPK police system. We need to expand the framework and fit restorative justice practices in its legal architect and embed it in our criminal justice system. After all, we constructed the structure of criminal justice system on the name of justice.