Je verrai toujours vos visages is a 2023 French film that has been a box office success (over 1m entries in 3 months) and has been widely commented upon in legal publications. The film follows the story of four victims of crimes (violent theft, rape) who meet their attacker in the context of ‘restorative justice’.
Restorative justice consists in bringing the victim and the offender together to discuss the consequences of the offence and implement various measures involving the victim, the offender and society. This practice is complementary to punitive proceedings. It is voluntary, free, and confidential.
The idea of restorative justice originated in an early Canadian experience of victim-offender mediation in 1974. However, this is a relatively new provision in France, as it was only introduced into the French law with the law of 15 august 2014 relating to the individualisation of penalties and reinforcing the erasure of criminal sanctions, known as the Taubira law.
The notion is found in article 10-1 of the French penal procedure code where it says that restorative justice is a procedure that takes place during all criminal and at all stages of the proceedings, including the execution of the sentence. The victim and the offender, on condition that the facts have been acknowledged, may be offered a restorative justice measure. The latter can only be taken after the victim and the offender have been fully informed about it and have expressly agreed to participate.
Everyone who is affected by a crime should consider restorative justice, regardless of the type of crime they experienced, it has wider scope of application compared to criminal justice.
It is implemented by an independent third party trained for this purpose, under the supervision of the judicial authority or, at the latter’s request, the prison administration. It is confidential, unless agreed by the parties and except in cases where an overriding interest linked to the need to prevent or suppress offences justifies the disclosure of information relating to the progress of the measure to the public prosecutor.
The aim of criminal justice is essentially to punish the disturbance of public order caused by the offence, defined as an infringement of the law, whereas the aim of restorative justice is to maintain social peace. Only the method differs between these two procedures: while criminal justice, which is carried out by the state, is exercised vertically, with offenders and victims placed in a position of passivity, restorative justice places all protagonists on an equal footing, and is exercised horizontally as it seeks to give them an active role in reducing the personal, family, cultural and, more generally, social repercussions of the offence.
Restorative justice has benefits for the crime victims, offender, and the society. Victims may feel listened to, receive answers and they can discuss different forms of reparation. For the person who committed the offense, he/she will understand the consequences of their behaviour, make amends with the victims directly and explore ways on how to take responsibility for their actions. As for the community, it helps with enhancing public safety and well-being, provide a safe space for all the parties impacted by the crime so they can have a dialogue and have a choice on how the harm caused will be repaired, partner with the justice system and reduce court costs.
While restorative justice usually goes alongside criminal proceedings, it may also supplement a civil claim for damages for injuries suffered as a result of the crime, in getting the victim back to a situation as close as possible to what would have been but for the incident / offense, in line with the principles of reparation of damage.
***Thank you to our legal intern Nada Haggag for her contribution to this blog!***