The criminal justice system in Nigeria as in many other countries is ‘retributive’. It is concerned with ‘retribution’ and punishing the offender, concentrating more on the crime itself than on the people involved, which is often not in the best interests of the victim, the offender, or society in general.
Our Constitution, law of evidence and criminal procedure laws protect the crime suspect. The protections offered by these laws tend to diminish the attention of the suspect, especially where he is guilty; from the fact that he or she has committed a crime, but rather focuses the suspect strictly on court trial and its accompanying aspects such as denial, not guilty plea, defences, weight of evidence, witnesses, technicalities, etc.
The natural inclination of crime suspects is to avoid punishment, therefore only in rare cases do suspects confess to the crime or plead guilty without coercion. The emphasis is on denial, even where the suspect is sorry internally for what he has done.
Our current system makes sparing provisions in the statute books for such repentant suspects to make amends , especially for juvenile offenders.
The provisions in the statutes are hardly activated in reality. Suspects are encouraged by their lawyers to plead not guilty, to conceal unfavorable evidence and to allow the prosecution to prove the guilt of the suspect beyond reasonable doubt . The pre-occupation is with exculpation or with obtaining the least possible punishment. No one wants to be punished.
The recent thinking in criminal justice circles is that punishment is probably the least effective method of dealing with criminal behaviour. Retribution is now being viewed by some as archaic and out of tune with the advancement of the modern justice system.
In contrast to the retributive one dimensional focus on punishment, restorative justice (RJ) is based on the principle that justice is best served when there is a balanced response to the needs of citizens, the offender and victims. Restorative justice is a much better system.
Restorative justice, which is rapidly gaining recognition, deals with misconducts, offences and conflict. It is also a form of rediscovery of the victim in the criminal process. The victim, the community and the offender must be viewed as clients of the justice system, and must be involved meaningfully as co-participants in a holistic justice process. Hitherto, what was practiced was a system of two rivals and opposite concerns wherein the State prosecutes and punishes, while the accused person has the right to conduct his defense. Thus the victim is entirely disregarded.
Nevertheless, in recent years, more attention is being paid to the plight of the victim with the emergence of restorative justice policies aimed at ensuring greater protection for the victim.
This approach focuses on ‘restoring’ damaged relationships (between victim, offender and community) to the way they were before a crime was committed to ‘make things right as much as possible.’ It entails looking beyond retribution to find deeper solutions to restore damaged relationships. It promotes solutions to repair damage, reconcile parties involved, restore community harmony and reassure those involved.
The article, “Restorative Justice: Victim Offender Mediation” was contributed by Ani Comfort Chinyere (Mrs.) LL.B (Hons.) BL; LL.M., Ph. D