No. XXV (2000)

The Theoretical Foundations of Mediation Between the Victim and Offender

Beata Czarnecka-Dzialuk
Institute of Law Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Department of Criminology

Published 2000-03-03


  • victim,
  • offender,
  • mediation,
  • conflict

How to Cite

Czarnecka-Dzialuk, B. (2000). The Theoretical Foundations of Mediation Between the Victim and Offender. Archives of Criminology, (XXV), 9–28.


Mediation as a method of conflict resolution also applicable to conflict resulting from an offences is the alternative of legal solution of disputes, a technique shared by various models that promote the use in practice of consensus. This novel plocedure fot conflict resolution (which is however derived from the traditions of the oldest societies) - a consensual one, based on agreement between parties - has been developing most dynamically over the recent decades, and pervaded all branches of the law in most legal systems (H. Jung, T. Marshall).

In the specific context of criminal justice, mediation does not necessarily aim at conflict resolution. For this reason, it is defined as a process, where parties to proceedings are offered the possibility to actively participate in resolving issues that result from the offence, and are assisted in so doing by an impartial third person or mediator. Mediation may take a variety of forms (direct or indirect); it may be conducted by professional or lay mediators, under auspices of the law enforcement agencies or by an independent social organization, and the parties to it may include not only the victim and the offender but also their relatives and other supporters as well as representatives of the criminal justice system.

As has already been mentioned, the origins of mediation between the offender and his victim date back to the oldest past when all issues related to harm involved in acts that are today treated as offences were adjusted in the course of negotiations by those directly concerned assisted by their families and clans. The offences was seen as a conflict between the victim and the perpetrator, with due consideration to the social context. Once the function of reacting to crime was taken over by the state, the reactions initially resembled the modern rules of civil law. Later on, when crime was interpreted as violation of the order established by the ruler, penal sanctions aimed not only at compensating the victim but also at supporting the authority of the state. Although Nils Christie's picture of the state stealing the conflict is a convincing illustration of this situation, the fact should be borne in mind that the state's taking over of the function of punishing was an immense cultural achievement of its time, especially for those members of the conmunity who were too weak to vindicate their claims (B.-D. Meier). Solutions that provide for specific forms of consensus can also be found in modern legal systems.

In the area of mediation between the victim and offender, the practice outpaced theory. It was inspired, among other things, by examples of "community justice'' of non-Western cultures; by the movement on behalf of victims, the progress of victimology, the diversion conception, and abolitionism; by the theory of social peace and conflict resolution and by the conception of reparatory justice.

This latter conception deals with most problems posed by the other ones. It is, however, difficult to define, and its essence is difficult to explain, especially if we try to embrace threads important for all the trends on which it bases. Thus in the end, a simpler definition suggested by T. Marshall won general acceptance: "reparatory justice is an approach to crime, oriented on solving the problem, which engages perionally all parties involved in it as well as the community, in active relation to the public sector institutions. It is not a specific activity but a set of ruled that may set the direction of the bulk of actions of all institutions or groups related to crime. Reparatory justice is a process in which all parties involved in a specific offence meet to reach a joint solution of the issue of effects of crime and conclusions for the future". This definition was subsequently modified somewhat by other authors. In particular, it was accepted by an international body - the International Research Network on Reparatory Juvenile Justice in its Leuven Declaration of May 1997 concerning advisability of promoting the reparatory approach to juvenile delinquency.

Reparatory justice is discussed as a specific trend, approach, philosophy or even idea; according to most authors, however, it has not yet developed into a consistent theory, although incessant efforts are made towards this aim. The term "reparatory justice'' is attributed to R. Barnett; H. Zehr's contribution is the first general model of that justice as an "alternative paradigm of justice" whose main principles are opposed to those of the traditional retributive justice. Also J. Braithwaite's idea of "reintegrating confusion'' was of importance for the development of the reparatory justice conception. It is associated e.g. with Hirschi's theory of control, Matza's neutralization theory, Luhmann's systemic theory, and also with the traditional penal law theories under which evil has to be compensated by punishment, but compensation involving suffering prohibits a better arrangement of social relartions. Instead, reparatory justice balances the harm involved in crime through action aimed at compensation and “doing good” (Ch. Pelikan, B.D. Meier). M. Wright stresses that this conception largely tallies with the common-sense ideas as to how society should react to crime, supported by appropriate actions, analysis, and studies.

Mediation and other restorative reactions are sometimes shown as responses that function instead, parallel or within the traditional justice system. Much speaks, however, for integration of reparatory justice with the criminal justice system. The approach that isolates mediation altogether from criminal justice pays insufficient attention to the danger of inequality of the parties to mediation in the area of efficient execution of their conflicting interests. Thus public interest requires that the course and results of mediation proceedings be supervised. The manner in which reparatory justice may replace repressive one depends first and foremost on the seriousness of crime. It is not in all cases that a purely reparatory reaction should be recommended as sufficient. This is among the frequent arguments of critics of reparatory justice (although even its supporters accept the existence of limits to its application). Skeptics also stress that reparatory justice violates a number of generally accepted rules of procedure, especially that of equality before the law (which, however, could be disputed) and the offender’s procedural rights due to him in criminal proceedings (which is in fact a weakness of reparatory justice, but collisions might be solved by appropriate rules and standards of the reparatory process or e.g. by judicial review of negotiated solutions).

The conception of reparatory justice is often explicated through opposition of the basic models of reaction to crime (although faulty in some respects, this method well illustrates the most fundamental features). Reparatory justice is sometimes called the "third path'', an alternative to the (neo-) retributive penal law and the rehabilitation model which proves ineffective, and a fully mature self-standing model (L. Walgrave, I. Aertsen). M. Wright stressed two spccial ideas that distinguish reparatory justice from the traditional criminal justice system. The first of them is that the process itself constitutes an essential element of the reaction, that it is constructive and may even have a therapeutic importance. The other idea is compensation interpreted in a much broader sense - from symbolic actions such as work to those reducing the risk of the offender relapsing into crime.

The justification and legitimization of mediation in criminal cases bases not only on new theorietical conceptions. Such justification can also be found in the assumptions of the traditional justice system. This is what B.D. Meier did assuming as his point of departure the penal law system's public function, including in particular that of restoring public order that has been violated through crime, and also that of preventing repeated violations. The traditional systems have always provided for two or three different models of reaction to crime. Prevalent is punishment imposed on the person who has been found guilty. The second model involves imposition of special measures irrespective of the offender's liability (security and preventive measures). The third model, of crucial importance for legitimization of mediation in the criminal justice system, consists in renouncing formal proceedings, e.g. in view of slight social harmfulness of the act, the fact that no public interest is involved in the imposition of penalty, or reasons of general and special prevention. According to T. Marshall, justifications of reparatory justice (fulfilled i.a. through mediation) should be sought in the community nature of the offence and its effects.

Explaining the theoretical foundations of mediation between the victim and the offender is a complex task because of the multitude of its sources as well as theories and conceptions quoted, and particularly because of the lack of agreement as to the essence of the usually quoted conception of reparatory justice and as to its treatment as "competitive'' with fespect to traditional justice or (for which interpretation I would like to declare) as that system's highly profitable logical supplementation, improvement and expansion.

Also in Poland, the practice of actions involving mediation have outpaced the theory: for several years now, there has been quite a rapid growth in its application in practice. In both spheres, there are many problems and challenges worth taking up. At the same time, expanding the theory is of importance for the practice. Explanation of the ideas, aims and foundations of mediation and of its position with respect to traditional justice is paramount for the institution's reasonable development, evaluation and shaping towards its meeting the expectations.


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