Assault Causing Harm –

Restorative conference

Probation Service

Assault Causing Harm

Restorative Conference

This case involved a young man, A. On the day of the offence, A had met with a group of friends, mid-afternoon to celebrate a birthday. The group drank alcohol for the rest of the day until the early hours of the next morning. They moved between pubs, eventually arriving at a nightclub. There, a friend told A that his other friends had been involved in an argument with a group of customers. At this point, A was heavily intoxicated. He decided to go and find this group of people. He then saw the victim, B, and wrongly believed that he was a member of the other group. A was holding a glass and swung it towards the victim, B, hitting him in the face. The glass cut the victim’s chin, leaving him with a permanent scar.

A was charged and pleaded guilty to assault causing harm. The Circuit Court referred the case to the Probation Service for a pre-sanction report, in which the Probation Officer proposed a restorative justice intervention. Following this submission, the Court approved a further, short adjournment to facilitate the proposed intervention.  

The case was considered suitable for restorative justice for a number of reasons. A took responsibility for the offence at an early opportunity. Upon interview by a Probation Officer, he was remorseful and became emotional when discussing the harm caused. He described feeling shameful about his actions towards the victim and this seemed to weigh heavily upon him. Meanwhile, the Garda in the case had indicated that the victim, B, would appreciate the opportunity to meet with A.

The Probation Officer assigned to A’s case sought the support of Probation’s Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit, which agreed that the case would be suitable for a restorative conference. The process involved two Probation Officers, one of whom acted as the facilitator for the conference, while another participated in order to help discuss the harm done. A and B agreed to be part of the process. They both took the advice to nominate support people: A brought a relative, and B brought a friend. An additional person, who works for an NGO that uses restorative justice, participated to speak about what others who witnessed the offence – bar staff, security staff and customers – might have felt.

The facilitator prepared each participant for the conference, explaining the process, the questions that they would ask, and the seating plan, attendees and refreshments. A had been assessed for restorative justice during his pre-sanction report, and the facilitator undertook further preparation by telephone with the support persons and other participating professionals.

The process involved was a scripted restorative conference, with a seating plan agreed beforehand, and refreshments provided afterwards. A spoke first and apologised to B. He accepted responsibility for the unprovoked attack, saying that he had not been thinking and immediately regretted his actions. He told B that he thinks of him every day and hopes he is getting on well. He stated that this incident was the biggest regret of his life.

B said that he was leaving the nightclub when he was assaulted. He was caught by complete surprise. He fell backwards when hit and suffered a number of cuts to his face, describing that there was blood everywhere. He said that security staff acted quickly, removing him to another part of the nightclub and administering first aid. B then had to go to hospital, where he had to wait for a number of hours to receive treatment. B also said that he accepted A’s apology.

B told the conference that the cuts took a long time to heal. He was embarrassed in front of colleagues and friends. He said that he told people that he had fallen while training, but he was still worried that some people believed he must have been in some way responsible for the assault. He also spoke about the impact on his friends and parents, and the effect on himself, as the case had taken over two years to progress through the courts.

B’s support person spoke about his shock when B had called him the next day and told him about the incident. He said it was difficult hearing B speak to people about how he had sustained the injury, and that B would never usually be involved in a row, nor had seen such a serious assault before. He spoke about his worry that the consequences could have been even more serious for B’s health.

A’s support person further said that B was a lovely young man who did not deserve what happened. She believed that alcohol played a significant part in A’s behaviour. She said that A, when sober, would usually be a peacemaker and never aggressive. She said she was upset and became very emotional. She was also worried about the impact on A. Finally, the NGO worker spoke to the potential trauma for the staff and customers who witnessed the assault, and the reputational damage to the nightclub.

The conference reached an agreement, signed by both A and B, including:

  • a letter of apology to B;
  • a letter of apology to B’s family;
  • a written piece from A to his friends about the dangers of excessive alcohol use; and,
  • a letter of apology to the nightclub.

Afterwards, the group shared refreshments, during which time A and B shook hands. A and B and their support people all spoke. Following the conference, A quickly completed all of the agreement. He said he had never considered the worry B’s parents were put through. He had also never considered that B would be blamed for the assault and have to make excuses. B said that he saw A as simply a young man who had made a terrible mistake and had received his punishment for doing so.

All of the actions were completed as agreed, and the Court imposed a two-year prison sentence, fully suspended.