top of page

Comparative restorative justice: is it possible?

by Dr. Theo Gavrielides, August 2023

The paradox of restorative justice

Restorative justice is no longer an unfamiliar concept at least among researchers, academics, policy makers and international peace organisations. Over the last five decades, it developed one of the most thorough literatures in social sciences, while many have claimed that we have accumulated more evidences on the effectiveness of its practices than any other criminal justice and justice policy (Gavrielides, 2021; Johnston, 2018; Braithwaite, 2002).

And yet, restorative justice is faced with a number of persistent paradoxes (Gavrielides, 2014; Pavlich, 2005). For example, one paradox relates to the way we have learned to think of restorative justice. Understandably, its early proponents[1] made impressive claims about restorative practices so that enough attention is paid to them by reformists. Subsequently, a strong, and often unfounded, narrative was created using this comparator (i.e., restorative vs criminal justice). And while we have learned to think of restorative justice in opposite terms to criminal justice, we have been given little comparative evidence, or indeed theoretical contributions to comparative restorative studies. Challenging restorative and criminal justice

In my student years and while I was being educated to become a lawyer, I undertook "Comparative Criminal Justice", learning about the adversarial vs inquisitorial models, their history and main differences. I even opted to do my Master's thesis on comparative criminal justice, citing experts in the field such as David Nelken, William Elliott Butler and Francis Pakes.

Being ambitious, I recently felt I had to bring a new challenge to the restorative justice and criminal justice field. This challenge was introduced in a new edited collection that Springer published titled: "Comparative Restorative Justice". I was honoured that all the aforementioned experts wrote for the book alongside other international leaders and scholars from the restorative justice field.

Introducing comparative restorative justice

In the book’s introduction, I define Comparative Restorative Justice as:

“an emerging comparative study of what structured and unstructured justice systems do – and should do – about preventing or restoring the violation of the social liaison that binds communities together”.

I started from Nelken’s definition of Comparative Criminal Justice (2010) by extracting his three definitional axes of: crime problems, institutions and the people involved in the justice process. Subsequently, I used Zehr’s changing lenses (1990) to view these terms in an alternative reality and justice paradigm. I then proceed to put these three axes in a historical continuum, while arguing in favour of a consensual conceptual model for understanding comparative restorative justice. Subsequently, I presented evidences of power battles within the restorative justice movement, which have taken the form of faultlines.

Comparative restorative justice and divisions with the restorative justice movement

The analysis of these false divisions helped me put the book’s ambition into context, as it aspires to take the first collective step towards addressing these internal battles. This is achieved through the volume’s various contributions, which provide the context to claim that these faultlines are nothing but comparative axes within the diverse restorative justice field and study.

I argue that what has been missed by researchers, policy makers and practitioners from around the world is the significance of comparative restorative justice, and the development of its methodologies. By taking the first collective step towards bridging this gap, we start to see these divisions as comparative learnings for better implementation and theoretical development.

A special book

I am particularly proud of this book for at least three reasons. Firstly, leading criminal justice academics and restorativists trusted and agreed to write side-by-side. Combining their views, comparing them and bringing them together for the advancement of the restorative justice movement was indeed a privilege.

Secondly, the book was written during unprecedented times, when COVID-19 had taken away hope and the norm of life. Finding the strength to write and coordinate editorial work from all corners of the world was a tall order.

Finally and more importantly this volume is dedicated to Hennessey Hayes, one of its authors. He passed away as the book was coming together, and thus this is his last contribution to the restorative justice literature. Hennessey said: “I want to inspire and empower people, leading by example! I’m lucky that every day is different, every class I teach is different, it’s satisfying knowing it has influenced people's professional pathways”.

Hennessey Hayes (photo credit Prof. William Wood)


[1] Arguably, what provoked the interest in restorative justice as such, were three 1977 articles by Randy Barnett (1977), Nils Christie (1978) and Albert Eglash (1977).


Table of contents - Comparative Restorative Justice

Foreword: David Nelken

Guest Preface: William Elliott Butler

Editor Preface: Theo Gavrielides

Introduction: Theo Gavrielides – Comparative restorative justice

In memory of Hennessey Hayes: William R Wood

Part I: Comparing restorative justice in its implementing environments

Chapter 1: George Pavlich - Formative Promises, Restoration and Decolonizing Justice

Chapter 2: Amanda Wilson - General Terms of Comparison: Two Cores of the Restorative Justice Apple

Chapter 3: Julena Jumbe - An East African Comparative study of indigenous vs post-colonial restorative justice in Tanzania

Chapter 4: Robert Mackay - The shadows of blood feud in the development of restorative justice – illustrations from Albanian and Scottish history literature

Chapter 5: John Winterdyk - Comparing aboriginal and post-colonial restorative justice: The case of Canada

Chapter 6: Gabriel Velez, Madeline Hahn and Antonio Butler - Opportunities and challenges for race equality in the age of COVID-19: Comparing virtual with face-face approaches to restorative practices in schools and communities.

Part II: Comparing restorative justice: Adversarial vs inquisitorial criminal justice systems

Chapter 7: Isabel Ramírez - Comparing the transition from an inquisitorial to an adversarial criminal justice system: An opportunity for restorative justice in Chile

Chapter 8: Wendy Lui - Comparing the implementation of restorative justice in the inquisitorial system of China with the adversarial tradition in Hong Kong

Chapter 9: William R Wood, Masahiro Suzuki, Hennessey Hayes, Jane Bolitho, Roadblocks and Diverging Paths for Restorative Justice in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand

Chapter 10: Rina Kashyap, Muhammad Asadullah, Ramkanta Tiwari, Nibras Sakafi, Community and Restorative Justice Practices in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh: A Comparative Overview

Chapter 11: Ann Skelton and Mike Batley - A comparative review of the incorporation of African traditional justice processes in restorative justice child justice systems selected in Sub-Saharan Africa

Part III: Comparing impetuses for restorative justice

Chapter 12: Arthur Hartmann - Comparative statistics in the field of restorative justice

Chapter 13: Marelize Schoeman - Contemporary structured vs. indigenous restorative justice in South Africa: Quo vadis?

Chapter 14: Lorenn Walker and Malina Kaulukukui - Comparison of Native Hawaiian Traditional Ho’oponopono and Modern Restorative Justice

Conclusion: Francis Pakes

Afterword: Michael Palmer


Tagged posts
bottom of page