Monday, 30 January 2017

Restorative justice On the Internet

One of the issues about the practice of an ombuds is how to resolve conflict which results in harm to one party. In particular the issues of cyber bullying, and harassment of any nature undertaken online, create particular problems in terms of resolution.

The concept of restorative justice, perhaps best-known in the work of Howard Zehr and others, does deal with the issue but on a personal level in a restorative justice circle. The very nature of such a circle is the personal relationships which develop between the parties and the facilitator, which enable some resolution. Particularly when you need to deal with cyber bullying, where it is very easy to go online and say harmful things about another person, actually being in the same space as the victim, so that the bully can understand the harm, is a very powerful tool.

Typically an ombuds will deal with such incidents in person, although restorative justice does not appear to be commonly used as part of the dispute resolution process. It may not even be appropriate for the ombuds to facilitate a restorative justice circle, although finding a facilitator would not be a problem. But I found that as the ICANN ombudsman, so much was done online that forming a restorative justice circle would have been impossible. When a harmful incident took place at an ICANN meeting, there would not commonly be time to set up a restorative justice circle within the very limited timeframe, between 4 to 9 days of the actual meeting. After the meeting, the attendees disperse to their homes around the world and of course establishing a restorative justice circle then becomes physically impossible.

It is conceivable that such a circle could be established using the correct platform. There are a number of different software platforms where parties can participate with a live view of each participant. Although it would not be as effective as being in the same room, being able to actually see the reactions of the participants may be useful. Of course, this would not need to be limited to a restorative justice circle meeting on ICANN issues, but may be of wider application. I would be curious to know if anyone has attempted such an exercise.

This year I will be undertaking restorative justice training at Victoria University under Prof Chris Marshall. This is a part-time evening course, and I hope to gain some insight into online applications as well as the wider training itself. I would be interested to receive feedback.

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