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 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 proceeedings." [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 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


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 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. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Provincial Bar of Quebec (English-language version) official web site. Accessed July 15, 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 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. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "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. 5.0 5.1 5.2 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. 7.0 7.1 7.2 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. 8.0 8.1 8.2 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. 9.0 9.1 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

External links