Assault Causing Harm –

Restorative Conference

Probation Service

Assault Causing Harm

Restorative Conference

An altercation arose in a pub after Robert, who was on holiday in the area, exchanged words with a local man, John, and his partner Alice, who were engaged in a private conversation. The exchange related to a badge Robert was wearing on his jacket. The conversation became uncomfortable and John asked Robert to leave them alone. Instead, Robert persisted with the conversation and things escalated quickly, with John grabbing Robert by his shirt collars, pushing him across the length of the bar and holding him up against a wall. Other customers intervened to pull John from Robert and assist him out of the premises. John was charged with assault causing harm and appeared before the District Court. When John pleaded guilty to the stated offence, the Judge adjourned the case for a probation report and assessment of the case for restorative justice.

The Probation Officer assigned to the case contacted the prosecuting Garda who said that John was remorseful for his behaviour and shook hands with the victim outside the court after the matters were adjourned. The Garda also said that John had no previous convictions and that the behaviour seemed out of character for him.

During his first assessment with his Probation Officer, John expressed remorse and shame for his behaviour and indicated that he would do whatever he could to repair the harm he caused. The prosecuting Garda also provided the victim’s contact details and the Probation Service contacted him by telephone to offer restorative justice. They outlined the restorative process, and Robert agreed to participate. In fact, he already had a level of familiarity with the concept of restorative justice and was positive about engaging in the process.

The Probation Service presented a pre-sanction report to the Court with the proposal that a restorative conference be convened, and sought an adjournment to allow this to take place. This was granted and, in the weeks that followed, Robert and John met separately with the Probation Service on a number of occasions. The purpose of these meetings was to allow the Probation Officer to explain the restorative conferencing process, including that a trained person would facilitate it by asking both parties a series of scripted questions and inviting them to respond in turn. The preparation also provided an opportunity for the parties to ask questions, voice concerns or fears, and receive reassurance about the safety of the process. It gave Robert the opportunity to tell his story and receive support and validation.

Both parties were invited to bring a support person to their conference. John requested that he bring his partner Alice, while Robert declined the invitation to bring a supporter, citing logistical difficulties relating to his family living elsewhere. He also declined an offer to bring the prosecuting Garda as his supporter, stating that he was comfortable attending alone. In addition to these parties, two Probation Officers attended, one of whom facilitated.

At the conference, John was invited first to speak about what happened on the evening of the offence, his thoughts at the time and since, the harm done and who was affected. He expressed deep regret and remorse for what he had done. He was emotional and indicated that he never assaulted anyone before and was very distressed that he had been violent. He indicated that he was seen as a positive role model in his local community and was now so ashamed that he avoided others and stopped going to that pub. A talented musician, he had also stopped playing music and entertaining others in the pub where the offence occurred.

Next, the facilitator invited Robert to speak about how the offence affected him. He told of his shock and fear after being assaulted at a holiday destination that he and his family had visited for many years. He spoke about his happy memories of his family at that home and how, after the incident, he did not want to visit the area again. He also spoke about avoiding the pub where the offence occurred and expressed sadness that John no longer played music there, as he believed John to be a gifted musician.

John’s partner Alice also spoke, giving a very emotional account of the effect of the incident on her. Each of the narratives heard had a powerful effect on everyone in the room. All were emotional and tears were shed. There was a strong sense of the need for healing by all, and a desire to repair the harm and move on.

The closing part of the conference saw an Action Plan to repair the harm agreed. Robert proposed organising an event in the pub in which the offence occurred, with John agreeing to provide the music. Everyone welcomed this, as the theme of the event would highlight an issue that was close to Robert’s heart. It would also enable the parties to return to the pub that they had avoided since the incident, and involved John playing his beloved music, which both parties saw as a positive outcome.

In the conference, everyone had a chance to tell their story and understand why the offence happened. Robert could hear John’s shame and remorse in a safe, structured environment. John was also able to hear Robert’s story, including the physical and emotional impact that the offence had on his life. John’s partner added a powerful element in the process, as she was present when the offence occurred and described its effect on her. The parties agreed that the Action Plan would see the harm repaired in a visible and meaningful way. After the conference, there was relief among those present and visible signs of reconciliation with hand shaking and conversation over tea and coffee.

The Court granted an adjournment for the event to take place, although in light of COVID-19 restrictions, the parties agreed that John would undertake gardening and maintenance work for Robert instead. Robert submitted a letter to the Court indicating his satisfaction with the process, and the Court decided to strike out the case.

The restorative conference had a powerful and emotional impact on all involved. Those involved from the Probation Service agreed that preparation and planning were vital in the smooth running of the conference and in leading to positive outcomes for all. Additionally, engagement with victims is a core component of the restorative process, enabling Probation Officers, who mostly work with perpetrators, to hear victims’ concerns and respond to their needs in a way that supports healing for all.