Restorative Justice – A powerful lens to address harm caused by slavery

Published: Friday, April 21st, 2023

This is a blog by our Director Lucy Jaffé.

British institutions are increasingly recognising that the origins of the wealth they enjoy today comes from historical endeavours based on slavery.

The Church of England, The Scott Trust (Guardian newspaper group), and the Trevelyan family are just a few of the figureheads beginning to address the impact of the harm caused by slavery.

The British Monarchy is also beginning to confront historic ties with slavery, announcing last week that they will co-sponsor PhD candidate Camilla de Koning at Manchester University to investigate the royal family’s involvement in the slave trade, granting the researcher access to the Royal Collection and Royal Archives.

As these major institutions begin to deepen the understanding of their roles in slavery, a need to acknowledge how these past action has created long-lasting harm will become incredibly important. In turn, this will start an epic journey of repair and transformation.

I offer here a perspective of a white person about the use of Restorative Justice as a lens to process and address the impact of the harm, with recognition that this is not my pain.

We start by addressing the needs of all the people affected and involved.

We ask ‘who has been affected and how?’ and ‘what can be done to put things right?’

The facilitation is conducted neutrally or multi-partially, with respect, safely, accessibly, and voluntarily by all parties with independent facilitators. The work must be trauma-informed and can involve individuals, groups, or institutions.

The participants are supported to speak and ask questions. The job of a restorative facilitator is to ensure that there is thorough preparation, organisation of the process, confidentiality, and safety, as well as writing up the outcome agreement which is signed by all parties.

The aim is restoration. What that looks like is defined by the participants themselves.

To make a positive reparative impact on the layers of multi-generational harm which have been caused, the Restorative Justice will have to be an iterative and intricate series of processes over a long period of time. Rushing the solution, rather than taking time to explore needs and feelings, could result in further harm.

There will also need to be developments of the Restorative Justice process itself to be fit for purpose in this application.

Rebuilding trust and identity in the wake of such deep-rooted violence will take time, commitment, humility, and resources. Restorative Justice offers a way to get the truth uncovered and the process of repair started.

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