Assault causing harm, Producing a Weapon, Violent Disorder, Threats to Kill – Victim-Offender Mediation
Assault Causing Harm, Producing a Weapon, Violent Disorder, Threats to Kill
This case arose from a violent confrontation on the main street of a town on a weekend afternoon, and was referred to the Probation Service by a Circuit Court Judge. Three men were before the courts. A father and his son pleaded guilty to offences of assault causing harm, production of an article capable of inflicting serious injury in the course of a dispute, and violent disorder. A third man, on the other side of the violent dispute, pleaded guilty to violent disorder and threats to kill. All parties received injuries requiring medical treatment; one person had been stabbed and received blows to the head and body.
Aside from this, the three parties had experienced ongoing psychological and physical harm from the conflict surrounding the violence: an ongoing feud over many years. These index offences arose out of an ongoing issue between the identified parties and their extended families. Aside from the harm of the above-mentioned physical injuries, the three men told their Probation Officers about the negative impact upon them of the feud. The father stated that he had experienced ‘years of hell’. He lived in constant fear of attack and of his home being targeted, and had concerns for the safety of his family and the effect of the situation on his daughter. He reported that he had even dreamt of the other man attacking him.
Following reports to the Court, it was suggested that the case might benefit from mediation. The case was adjourned and referred to the Probation Service. Following further review by the Probation Service, it was decided that a restorative justice approach was potentially suitable. This decision was made through consultation between the local manager and the Probation Service’s Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit. It was considered that restorative justice might help those involved realise that their actions hurt others, take responsibility for their actions and be held accountable, with the ultimate aim of enabling those involved to reflect on how they behaved and agree a plan to prevent further harm and conflict. Early indications were that all parties were open to mediation, encouraged by the Judge and the potential for lengthy custodial sentences if they failed to do so.
A Senior Probation Officer and Probation Officer from the Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit facilitated the process. All three men before the courts agreed to participate in victim-offender mediation (VOM). In this particular case, the offenders were also victims. The aim of the process was to provide an opportunity for those involved to meet in a safe, controlled setting, with the facilitators.
After preparing for the meeting independently with each party, the Probation Officers facilitated a discussion between the parties to address and repair the harm caused and agree their own plan on how to avoid further conflict. This took place over a number of sessions in the local Probation Service office. Aside from the incident pertaining to the Court case, there had been numerous incidents between these three men, ranging from name-calling to threats of physical harm, in person and over social media. The mediation process allowed all parties to verbalise the impact upon themselves and others of the effects of the feud, such as other family members and the public. It also helped put a mirror up to them, reflecting back to them the impact of their own actions.
It emerged that none of the parties were aware of how or why the feud began or how they became involved. Meanwhile, many other individuals were operating at the sideline of the conflict and encouraging it to continue at their expense. All parties spoke of a desire for the feud to cease and a chance to apologise for their actions, while expressing doubts about the other side’s genuine commitment to the process, in light of the Court case as a motivating factor for engagement.
As such, the face-to-face meetings were key to the ultimate success of this process. The final meeting was preceded by four lengthy preparatory meetings with each party. The success of the process was certainly due to the amount of preparation undertaken. The ground rules and agenda were jointly agreed beforehand and, before meeting, both sides had agreed on what the best outcome would be and developed a plan to achieve it.
The final meeting allowed the parties to verbalise the hurt and harm caused to them and to express remorse for what happened. All parties agreed and signed the following contract:
- not to engage in any further acts of physical violence, threats, intimidation or verbal abuse towards each other;
- not to engage in any acts of provocation, such as posting on social media, spreading gossip or rumours, or attempting to influence others to engage in unacceptable behaviour toward each other;
- to avoid contact with others who are intent on provoking conflict and report any unlawful activities to An Garda Síochána;
- to be respectful and courteous to each other in all circumstances and situations;
- to share the content of this agreement with their respective Probation Officers;
- that anything said during this process will remain confidential as agreed; and,
- to comply fully with all of the above.
The Judge was informed, by way of Probation Reports, that all parties were deemed to have co-operated and engaged in the process. Over the course of the lengthy adjournment period, there had been no more issues between the parties involved. This matter was finalised by way of lengthy suspended sentences with conditions attached. There were reports that the parties had had contact with each other in the town and that this contact had been cordial.
Preparation by the facilitators was identified as a key element in enabling the participants to benefit and take ownership of the mediation process. In addition to the ongoing support of the line manager, the manager of the Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit provided appropriate supervision and assistance.