Research project: Perceptions of justice and fairness in criminal proceedings and restorative encounters: Extending theories of procedural justice.
The general aim of this research project was to investigate the relationship between restorative justice and procedural justice theory. The main research question was: “To which degree does procedural justice theory provide for a normative foundation for restorative justice philosophy?”
When restorative justice advocates are called upon to provide for theoretical foundations for restorative interventions, procedural justice theory is very often referred to. Restorative justice’s assertion that empowerment of the parties affected by crime (as victim, offender, or as a community member) contributes to feelings of fairness and satisfaction is supported by the theory of procedural justice. However the last decade, new hypotheses on the importance of procedures to justice judgements have been advanced in social psychology. These assert that the value of procedural fairness in some situations cannot counterbalance the negative effect of an undesirable or unfair outcome. This would mean that procedural justice theory cannot provide for a normative framework for restorative justice. Restorative justice’s normative basis, then, seems to depend in part on the veracity of procedural justice theory and the new hypotheses introduced.
In order to shed light on this matter, we investigated (1) the basis of procedural justice judgements of victims and offenders involved in a criminal trial, (2) victims’ and offenders’ perceptions of punishment and (3) the impact of participation in victim-offender mediation on perceptions of procedural fairness. This was done using three methods: (1) in-depth interviews, pre-trial and post-trial, with 54 victims and offenders of various crimes, (2) a survey taken from these same respondents and (3) focus groups with mediators.
The results suggest that procedural justice theory is a theory that restorative justice researchers indeed can take recourse to in order to substantiate their claim that the direct stakeholders to a crime value being involved in the proceedings that are set up for dealing with these crimes. Yet procedural justice theory cannot explain all of the positive and negative features of restorative interventions, therefore, additional explanatory models are needed.
- De Mesmaecker, V. (2011). Perceptions of justice and fairness in criminal proceedings and restorative encounters: Extending theories of procedural justice. Unpublished dissertation.
- De Mesmaecker, V. (2009). Ervaring met justitie als differentiërende factor in het oordeel over justitie. Een introductie tot procedurele rechtvaardigheid. Rechtskundig Weekblad, 14, 562-576.