Participatory justice

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Participatory justice is the use of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, conciliation, and arbitration, in criminal justice systems, instead of, or before, going to court.[1][2] It is sometimes called "community dispute resolution".[3]

In rare cases, it also refers to the use of The Internet or a television reality show to catch a perpetrator.[4]

Once used primarily in Scandinavia, Asia, and Africa, participatory justice has been "exported" to the United States[3][5][6] and Canada.[2][7][8] It is used in a variety of cases, including between "Landlords and Tenants, Neighbours, Parents and Children, Families and Schools, Consumers and Merchants ... [and] victims of crime and offenders."[3]

It has been called "the ethical seal of a democratic society" by Jesuit Friedhelm Hengsbach,[9] and "the politics of the future."[1] It is about "People and Relationships." [7]


Some purported advantages of participatory justice are:

  • It marks a society as ethical.[9]
  • It can be used to "right" wrongs.[4]
  • It is an alternative to the lack of "public confidence and participant satisfaction in the adversarial justice system", which has led to "inconsistency and uncertainty, delay and alienation of the community" ....[1]
  • It is an alternative to "plea bargaining or dispositional justice"....[1]
  • It can "preserve good relations, particularly if the dispute involves neighbours or business contacts." [2][3]
  • It is "confidential, unlike court proceedings." [2][3]
  • It applies civil law rather than criminal law.[5]
  • It is useful where "societies that lack a strong central power, where the State is a weak one, or where the State representatives are far away, people are forced not to apply force."[5][8]
  • It focuses on personal relationships.[3][7]
  • NGOs (Non-governmental organizations) may get involved in the administration of criminal justice.[3][8]
  • It costs less than civil litigation.[3]


Some purported disadvantages of participatory justice are:

  • The motive is often "humiliation" of a party.[4]
  • It is used by people who are not trained in the collection of evidence.[4]
  • There are no "checks and balances" for vigilantes.[4]
  • The offender's motivation is difficult to assess if the alternative is more formal punishment.[10]
  • The victim does not know the offending history of the offender and therefore may be engaged in the process without full facts and knowledge.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Stephens, Gene, "Participatory justice: The politics of the future," Justice Quarterly, March 1986, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 67-82(16), abstract found at Ingenta Connect website. Accessed July 15, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d Provincial Bar of Quebec (English-language version) official web site. Accessed July 15, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h New York State Unified Court System, "Alternative Dispute Resolution: Community Dispute Resolution Centers: Frequently Asked Questions", found at New York State Unified Court System government website. Accessed July 15, 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Participatory justice," review, February 19, 2008, found at Connect Safely website, citing Ganzer, Tony, "YouTube's Crime-Fighting Potential Put to Test," National Public Radio (NPR), found at NPR story from NPR official website. Accessed July 15, 2008.
  5. ^ a b c Christie, Nils, "Limits to Pain", "Chapter 11. Participatory justice," found at Prison Policy website. Accessed July 15, 2008.
  6. ^ Calkins, Peter, and Alice Pell, "North-South partnerships," presentation, SEDPU (Sufficiency Economy, Participatory Development, and Universities), 2003 conference, found at SEDPU website. Accessed July 15, 2008.
  7. ^ a b c Law Commission of Canada, "Towards Participatory Justice: A Focus on People and Relationships", [1], abstract found at Dalhousie University Libraries website. Accessed July 15, 2008.
  8. ^ a b c Conference brochure, "Participatory Justice in a Global Economy: The New Rule of Law?", October 2003, Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice, found at Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice (CIAJ) website. Accessed July 15, 2008.
  9. ^ a b Hengsbach, Friedhelm (S.J.), "Participatory Justice", essay, n.d., found at Portland Independent Media website. Accessed July 15, 2008.
  10. ^ C Williams (1987) Victim-Offender Mediation in New Law Journal (London)
  11. ^ C Williams (1987) op cit

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