Assault causing harm, producing a weapon – restorative conference

Probation Service

Assault Causing Harm, Producing a Weapon

Restorative Conference

C is a young man who pleaded guilty to offences of assault causing harm and producing a weapon. The victim was a sex worker, and the offence, in which C cut her face, happened during the course of her work and in her home. It was late at night and C was intoxicated. One of the victim’s friends was also in the property at the time and witnessed the aftermath of the assault.

The Court referred the case to the Probation Service for a pre-sanction report with consideration given to restorative justice. C pleaded guilty at an early opportunity and presented at interview as remorseful for the harm he caused and as taking responsibility for the offence. The Gardaí confirmed that he was cooperative in their dealings with him.

C’s Probation Officer requested support from the Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit. The case was co-worked by two Probation Officers (the offender’s Probation Officer and one from the Unit) from this point. They explained restorative justice to C and discussed the range of different options, at which point the restorative conferencing model was agreed. They contacted the victim, who did not wish to participate, but asked that they represent her views within the process.

The Probation Officer from the Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit acted as the facilitator, and the other Probation Officer participated. C was encouraged to nominate a support person to participate, and a female relative of his agreed to do so. A Caseworker from a charity that supports sex workers agreed to represent the victim’s perspective. In preparation, each participant was told about the conference and the principles of fairness, engagement, respect, safety and honesty over telephone and face-to-face meetings. The questions to be asked during the conference, based on the International Institute for Restorative Practice’s script, were also discussed with each person.

During the conference, C said that the offence occurred in the context of alcohol abuse. C outlined how he was anxious about going to the victim’s apartment and feared being robbed. He indicated that he was in a high state of anxiety when he committed the offence. C stated that his offending caused harm for the victim and her family, as well as himself and his own family.

The Caseworker from the NGO said that the victim had made a contract with C and he had unfairly broken that contract. The victim would have feared for her life and her friend’s life when C produced the knife. The Caseworker from the NGO explained how the victim would have been terrified. She said this terror was the worst thing for the victim. She said that the victim and her friend must have felt terror in order for them to contact the Gardaí: because of the nature of their work, sex workers are often fearful of going to the Gardaí when victimised by clients. C was told that the offence would affect the victim, her friend and their wider community for the rest of their lives.

C’s support person spoke about her shock when she heard about the incident. She was upset for the victim and her friend. She said that this behaviour was out of character for C and that she saw him as a good person. The Probation Officer also talked about the harm C had caused to the victim and that, especially given C’s remorse, they did not want C ever to harm anyone like this again.

C said that he had not fully understood the harm caused to the victim or her friend until speaking to the NGO’s Caseworker. He said he had no words to explain how he was feeling but indicated that he felt emotional. He said that if he could go back and change things, he would just have gone home. He spoke about his paranoia and fear, and that he had not thought about the victim’s fear. He said he could have made different choices. C said that he had learned from the meeting, but could not express it fully. He said he could now see the bigger picture and the lasting effect for the victim. 

The conference then agreed that C make a donation to a charity directly connected to the offence. It was also agreed that a letter of apology be prepared that stated to the victim how wrong the assault was. The group decided that C should also write to the victim’s friend and to his own former partner to explain and apologise for the offence.

Each participant felt that the conference was positive and allowed everybody to be heard. It had also ensured that the victim was front and centre of everyone’s minds. The conference was followed by tea and coffee where C spoke about his hopes for the future.

Following the conference, C agreed to complete the plan. He required ongoing support to write the letters. It took a number of drafts until he completed the first letter. He readily apologised but found it difficult to write about the harm caused. He sought support from his Probation Officer to complete these letters. The Probation Officer provided guidance but, crucially, the letters were written by him, in his own words. Ultimately, the letters were completed, sent to their intended recipients with the support of An Garda Síochána, and accepted by all the parties.

The Court finalised matters by way of a two-year suspended prison sentence, an order for financial compensation to the victim and a period of twelve months supervision by the Probation Service.