I’m sure you probably never thought that mediation could be an option in resolving criminal disputes. In fact you may have heard that, mediation can never be used in criminal dispute resolution. However, thanks to recent developments, this position is not entirely true anymore.
Through a concept known as Victim-Offender Mediation, criminal matters on simple offences can now be brought for amicable dispute resolution based on the principles of restorative justice. Restorative justice, believes that justice is best served when there is a balanced response to the needs of citizens, the offender, and victims. Here the victim, offender, and the community are seen as clients of the justice system and must be co-participants in the justice process. It focuses on restoring damaged relationships in order to make things right as much as possible. The victim is often compensated in a very reasonable way.
Victim Offender Mediation (VOM)
This is a kind of programme where the victim and the offender are brought together into a form of meeting with a neutral trained mediator-facilitator. During this meeting, the victim has the platform to ask questions to his/her offender about the crime, he/she can tell the offender of the losses or injuries sustained due to the crime. This will help the offender understand the damage that his/her actions have caused. Both parties then reach an agreement on what the terms of their settlement will be.
Some of the advantages of Victim-Offender mediation include:
- The victim is able to speak freely to his offender and ask questions about the crime. This can give some form of closure to him/her.
- Both parties can air their grievances and discuss thoroughly the offense, unlike the traditional justice system where the offender will only be heard if called as a witness.
- It is confidential. The stigma is removed from the offender as the proceedings are not public and members of the press are not allowed.
- It affords the offender an opportunity to ask for forgiveness and this is a good way to give him some release of guilt.
- Community wise, members of the community are involved in the discussion of crimes, how to prevent them, etc
- The community further benefits because VOM seems to protect the smallest unit of any community which is the family.
- The criminal justice system benefits in terms of case management, speedy disposal of cases, it gives a human element to the criminal justice process. Studies have shown that offenders who partake in the restitution process have a higher rate of completing it than offenders who do not participate.
The major disadvantage of Victim Offender Mediation, is that it is contrary to public policy. This is because VOM disregards society’s interest in punishing and deterring the commission of crimes. Crime is a wrongdoing that deserves strict punishment.
VOM is still at a very rudimentary stage in Nigeria. It has however been used for certain matters at the Lagos Multidoor Court-House. In other countries like Australia, USA, and the UK, VOM is a very well established method of dispute resolution. One of the reasons why VOM is not so popular in Nigeria is because there is an innate fear that confessions or parts of the proceedings during mediation, may be used against the offender if the mediation fails. Also, our culture and way of reasoning are different when it comes to owning up to a crime here in Africa.
We hope that in due time, VOM will become well recognized in Nigeria and Africa, especially to help settle simple offences like petty theft, assaults, etc Most of the inmates in our very congested prisons are there for simple offences still awaiting trial due to the burden on our courts. VOM can also be an effective tool in bringing speedy resolution in these cases.