Melissa Virtue - Edinburgh Restorative Justice Service
I began volunteering with Sacro's Edinburgh Restorative Justice Service in May. The service provides a voluntary alternative to prosecution for the Procurator Fiscal, allowing parties to resolve their issues in a way that gives them the opportunity to discuss the reasons for their actions. This is a huge advantage in participating in Restorative Justice as the criminal justice process does not allow for this. Both parties are given the same opportunities to participate with the help of a trained facilitator.
Having been involved in over 35 cases I have seen first-hand how the service can help those involved move on from incidents that have caused them harm. One of the most interesting parts of the process comes when parties open up and explain fully how they felt after the incident. Very often there are issues which have been on going that have led to the incident in question, and engaging in Restorative Justice is the first opportunity they have had to talk about them. When the thoughts and feelings of parties are relayed to one another parties can find that they have a greater understanding of the situation they have found themselves in. It is when this understanding is found that the value of an apology increases tenfold and gives parties the motivation to resolve issues in an amicable way.
One of the best cases I have been involved in concerned two long term friends who had recently lost contact as it was believed one was bullying another party. Problems culminated in an offence being committed, and parties were referred to Restorative Justice. A Face to Face meeting was arranged and both parties attended. After initially tensions were eased both spoke freely of issues that had been going on that they were each unaware of. On hearing about their lives there was the realisation that they did care very much about each other and that the incident should not drive them apart. The meeting ended with the two giving each other a big hug, which seemed to have been long overdue!
Volunteering with Restorative Justice has been an excellent experience for me. I have been able to use my legal knowledge to help explain legal processes to service users, making their decision on whether to engage more informed. It has also shown me that there is always more to be learned about a set of circumstances, and that exploring this is the best way for parties to move forward. It is real a privilege to be able to say that I have contributed in resolving cases and in some cases repairing old friendships.