Assault Causing Harm –
restorative conference

An Garda Síochána 

Assault Causing Harm

Restorative Conference

All names have been changed to ensure anonymity

This case regards an Assault Causing Harm by a child, Mary, who assaulted the harmed person, Alice, randomly. Mary was referred through the Garda Youth Diversion Programme. Mary was in care at the time, living in a residential care home with other children. When Mary met the Juvenile Liaison Officer (JLO), who was trained in restorative justice, she expressed remorse for her actions on the night of the assault. Mary accepted that she had approached Alice and asked her for a cigarette. When Alice said that she did not have a cigarette, Mary punched her several times in the face. Mary was intoxicated at this time, and was arrested and brought to a Garda station. Mary accepted her role in this assault and appeared genuine in this regard. When Mary was asked if she would consider meeting with Alice, she stated that she wanted to do this, as she knew that what she had done was wrong.

Due to Mary being in care, the Garda spoke with her social worker and other keyworkers to get more background. When the Garda did a background check on Mary, it showed that the first time she was put on the police system was as a witness to domestic violence in the home. Mary had since been arrested a number of times for drunk and disorderly conduct, although this assault was her first offence with a clear victim.

The JLO made contact with Alice. She was very traumatised by the assault and was very unsure about whether or not she would meet with Mary. Alice was given a number of weeks to think about it. When contact was made again, she again expressed some reluctance to meet Mary. She asked if her partner, Mike, could also attend and was assured that this would be possible. Alice said that Mike believed that meeting the perpetrator would help her.

Alice insisted that the meeting take place in a Garda station due to some fear of attending the meeting. Mary, whose social worker was now helping her move to a private flat, agreed. On the day, Mary arrived early and was not in good form when met by the Garda facilitator. The facilitator enquired as to what was happening for her, and she stated that she was not feeling well for many reasons. This was worrying. Mary had arrived alone and insisted that she did not want anyone with her. Again, this was of concern to the facilitator. Mary was brought to the room and offered a cup of tea. Alice and Mike had now arrived. They were informed that Mary was not in good form and if they did not wish to take part in the meeting, this would be understandable. The facilitator neither directed nor encouraged them to go ahead with the conference; both parties were reminded of their option of not taking part, but both said that they wanted to go ahead with a meeting. Another Garda had also been asked to take part in the conference as a person who could relate to both sides and give another perspective during the storytelling phase; all had agreed this prior to the meeting.

Mary sat down first with her back to the door of the room. This is an important in cases where the perpetrator is seated first, so that the harmed person does not feel stared at when they enter the room. This is a small detail, but needs to be considered. The meeting started with all present sitting in the usual circle formation. The Garda facilitator welcomed everyone to the meeting and thanked them for attending. They were reminded that they could leave at any time because the restorative conference is a voluntary process.

The facilitator started by asking Mary to tell the group what had happened. Mary at this time stated: ‘I did nothing wrong and I am not apologising for anything’. The facilitator asked Mary to take a minute to consider this and asked her again if she wished to say anything, which she did not. The facilitator then asked Alice to tell the group what happened on the night. Alice gave an emotional account of what happened. When asked how the offence had affected her and others, Alice stated that when she was a child living in another country, both her parents were alcoholics and beat her regularly. She further stated that she was taken from the family home and had been placed in the care system in her home country. She said that the assault had brought all of this back.

By the time the facilitator had turned to look towards Mary, she was on her knees and started to ask Alice to forgive her. Mary was very remorseful and repeatedly said that she was very sorry for what she did. Both parties began crying. This was a huge moment in the conference. The facilitator continued the conference, asking Alice to complete what she had to say, but that they would come back to the perpetrator to speak soon. Alice continued to tell her story of the emotion and the harm. Mike also told his story and explained who he thought had been affected. Here, he mentioned and empathised with Mary. Mary was then give another chance to tell her story, which was important so that Alice could receive answers as to why the assault had occurred. This was described, with several further apologies given throughout the story.

The other participating Garda was then asked questions about who is affected by assaults like this. Although there had been many apologies, it was important to move the conference into the next phase and allow for an ‘official’ apology. The facilitator asked Mary whether, after everything she had heard, she wished to say anything else. She gave a heartfelt apology. Both parties were now crying and, again, this was allowed in the space. The facilitator asked if they needed a break but they stated that they did not.

The conference then moved into the repair phase and it was clear that Alice had some needs in relation to the assault. Her main need was to feel safe and she wanted to know that Mary would not do this again to her or anyone else. A conversation flowed between all the parties during this phase, with the facilitator only intervening to help ‘reframe’ things that were being said, but not intervening to suggest what repair should look like. Mary again gave a heartfelt undertaking that she would not do this again. She said that she would continue counselling and requested that her counsellor do a session around the meeting. She also agreed to do several other things and explained that she was moving into her own place to live. During the conversation, all parties warmed very much to each other with questions about each other’s lives going back and forth.

The conference was then brought to a conclusion with everyone asked if they wished to say anything else. At this time, so much had been said that nothing else was added. At the end of the conference, Mary and Alice hugged. They did so again when they left the station.

Afterwards, the facilitator said:

“Restorative interventions are not counselling sessions but, in this case, some deep issues allowed the wrongdoer and harmed person to connect. Both were swiftly followed up with a phone call offering other support services. The wrongdoer’s social work team and key workers were asked to speak with her around any ongoing support. Likewise, the harmed person was offered support from the facilitator to locate counselling services. Both parties were phoned the next week, and again a few weeks later. The harmed person was kept informed as to how the perpetrator was doing for the next twelve months, as agreed by the JLO.

I took a risk in going ahead with the conference, as the perpetrator was in bad form and alone upon arrival. Although thorough preparation was done, this proves that it is not known what can potentially happen on the day. The wrongdoer started the conference by stating she had done nothing wrong. I could have panicked, but I was trained to deal with ‘unacknowledged harm’ and shifted to this model of practice. Training was very important in this regard. Some disturbing issues were touched upon in the conference and when this happens, the facilitator must ensure that he/she follows this up with the parties. Everyone who attends a conference like this actually would have to be supported. Still, the restorative model was able to contain and deal with the harm. It was also important that the parties were not under any pressure to participate – a meeting should not go ahead because a facilitator wants it to happen. The harmed person and wrongdoer must participate in a voluntary way with the right intentions.

Sometimes restorative practice is not perfect. Not everything can be covered in preparation before a meeting takes place. Preparation is necessary, but every conference is a risk to some degree and when you bring offenders and victims together, anything can happen.”