- It was in 2011 that Montego Bay resident Allan Johnson*, sold his motor vehicle to a close friend and co-worker.
- Mr. Johnson tells JIS News that the friend made an initial payment, but failed to pay the balance within the agreed timeframe.
- After a warning letter from Mr. Johnson’s lawyer, the friend paid over a small sum but did not make another payment for more than three years.
It was in 2011 that Montego Bay resident Allan Johnson*, sold his motor vehicle to a close friend and co-worker.
Mr. Johnson tells JIS News that the friend made an initial payment, but failed to pay the balance within the agreed timeframe.
After a warning letter from Mr. Johnson’s lawyer, the friend paid over a small sum but did not make another payment for more than three years.
Frustrated, and desperate to recover his money, but not wanting to lose a good friend, Mr. Johnson sought assistance through the Restorative Justice Centre in Granville, established by the Ministry of Justice under the Restorative Justice Programme.
“I met a young lady that works with the Restorative Justice (Centre) with whom I shared my ordeal and she said the centre could assist me,” Mr. Johnson shares.
He says the centre contacted his friend, who came to the restorative session and “when he saw me there, that is when he realised how serious I was.”
Mr. Johnson tells JIS News that both parties were told to take along a relative or friend, who would offer support “so in case we feel that we cannot argue our point well, we would have someone there to help.”
“In addition to the Justices of the Peace, and our support systems, there were independent persons from our community. We sat down in a circle setting and discussed the situation at hand, not in a court sense, but in a meeting sense, and we were both able to express how we felt about the situation. In the circle, persons could easily see where they had gone wrong and how it offended the other person,” Mr. Johnson says, in relating his experience.
He shares with JIS News that having met within the circle setting, it was agreed that his friend would pay the money over a six-month period, “which he did. We are still friends, there is no animosity.”
“Restorative Justice not only helped me to recover my money, it also restored my friendship,” Mr. Johnson says.
He is calling for the programme, which is being piloted in select communities across the island, to be extended to benefit all Jamaicans.
Mr. Johnson says it took only one session of mediation to satisfactorily resolve the dispute, which could have taken “much longer” in the normal court setting.
“It is a good programme, as it restores peace and love. I would recommend restorative justice a million times, with no hesitation because it worked for me,” he gushes.
Restorative Justice provides a peaceful means of resolving conflicts that brings justice to the parties involved and heals the community.
Restorative Justice holds the wrongdoer responsible for his or her actions. It further provides an opportunity for the parties affected by the wrong – victim(s), offender, and community members – to identify and address their needs in the aftermath of a wrong. The process seeks an outcome that affords reparation, reintegration, and restoration of relationships, with a view to preventing future harm.
The process is relationship-centred, harm-focused, inclusive, participatory, democratic and contextually and culturally grounded.
The programme, which is in its pilot phase, is assisting hundreds of persons with matters such as: failure to repay loans or fulfil other financial commitments within the community, failure to pay rent, disputes over money, property damage, boundary disputes, minor wounding, assaults and confrontations, defamation of character, and threats.
Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, says the offender is a key part of the restorative justice process.
“The …. State and the accused are adversaries (opponents) in criminal litigation before the court and the punishment for the offender is at the heart of this process. In restorative justice, the victim and the community are co-participants in the entire process and their roles are as important as that of the offender,” the Justice Minister explains.
He notes that the process cannot take place until the offender takes responsibility for his or her actions and consents fully to participate in the process of restoration of the harm that has occurred.
The case of Lenville Pottinger demonstrates the importance for the offender’s role.
Mr. Pottinger, who operates a small store in St. Andrew, where he sells electrical products, relates that he sold an item to a customer, which was later found to be damaged.
Upon returning the item, Mr. Pottinger told the customer that he had already used the money to make purchases for his store, but promised to reimburse her in short order.
Dissatisfied with that response, the customer took the matter to the Restorative Justice centre in Tower Hill.
Mr. Pottinger tells JIS News that during the session, he acknowledged that he owed the customer, expressed regret at the incident, and even called her after the meeting to apologise again.
He says while he was the offender in the case, he valued the experience.
“I am particularly pleased with the way the restorative justice system handled the procedure. They were very polite and I would recommend that process rather than going through the courts. Persons can use that medium and they will be more or less pleased. These persons are very professional in their approach; I like that type of justice, its private and it serves its means,” he says.
Mr. Pottinger says he leant so much from the experience, that he offered his services to the centre. “If they have any other issue I can assist the process, thereby helping other people to resolve their case. It is a simple way to resolve matters outside of the courtroom. I did not feel embarrassed to attend the session, which lasted for little under an hour.”
In 2008, four communities were selected as pilot communities – Granville ,
St. James; Effortvillle, Clarendon; Homestead, St. Catherine; and Tower Hill,
St. Andrew. In April, 2012, three additional communities were added to the Restorative Justice Programme – Canaan Heights in Clarendon, and March Pen and Ellerslie Pen in St. Catherine.
The programme was further expanded in 2013 to four additional communities – Russia, Westmoreland; and Trench Town, August Town, and Nannyville Gardens,
St. Andrew. Nine Restorative Justice Centres have been opened across those communities. In February, Minister Golding opened the Montego Bay Restorative Justice Centre.
To date, 222 Restorative Practice facilitators have been trained. In 2014, some 35 trainers were certified and 80 stakeholders from teachers’ colleges, theological institutions, secondary schools, and primary schools were certified in Restorative Practices.
*Not His Real Name