CJCCJ/Volume 63.1 (2021)
Restorative Justice: Society’s Steady March Towards A Civilized Justice Paradigm
By Ezzat A. Fattah, Ph.D., DHC (Liège), FRSC
Seattle, WA: Kindle Direct Publishing. 2019. 191 p.
This book is a reflective compilation of a very lengthy and distinguished career in criminology in Canada. The book presents a detailed account of the development of Canadian retributive criminal justice. Also, Fattah discusses the many flaws of the retributive model and the promise for restorative justice in Canada.
Written by a pioneer of criminology in Canada, Dr. Ezzat A. Fattah, this book shares Fattah’s insight into Canadian criminal justice. He argues that based on his career as a former chief prosecutor in Egypt and a seasoned criminologist in Canada, the Canadian Criminal Justice System absolutely must adopt a restorative healing paradigm for punishment. With this new framework, all who are harmed by crime will also benefit. Justice will be incredibly empowering for victims of crime, many of whom tragically continue to be ignored and revictimized by the current retributive system.
As indicated, Fattah’s book is packed with insightful, detailed discussion on how the retributive-based Canadian Criminal Justice System has evolved. He highlights the many malfunctions that typically define retributive justice, stating it has become clear that “Present criminal policy, based as it is on punishment as a means of retribution and as an instrument of deterrence, has been a dismal failure” (p. 174).
Appealing to Kuhn’s paradigm shift concept, Fattah argues that adopting a new theoretical paradigm for criminal law and punishment, will change criminal law and shift how we punish for the better. He states that “…the impetus for this paradigm shift will have to come from that social science most closely linked to the criminal law, namely criminology” (p.33).
Having established that “The present criminal policy, based as it is on punishment as a means of retribution and an instrument of deterrence, has been pushed to its absolute limit” (p.35), Fattah addresses several critical problems with the retributive model for punishment. Issues such as the under-reporting crime, a low conviction rate, the use of plea bargaining, the application of misleading psychiatric evidence, and the excessive amount of pressure put upon judges in court trials all plague and render the Canadian Criminal Justice System ineffective (pp.35-37).
In addition to practical problems linked to the retributive justice model, Fattah also believes that “The metaphysical and philosophical notions underlying the criminal law of today are far removed from social reality” (p.43). This is very unfortunate as “The criminal law which does not cease to broaden its mandate and extend its boundaries has declared a monopoly on every conflict or dispute falling under its jurisdiction” (p.48). This monopoly has, in turn, created little to no opportunity for both formal and informal dispute resolution. As Fattah again underscores, “Since the current criminal law is centred upon punishment and retribution, and because of its avidity to extract revenue from the wrongdoers (in the form of fines), it naturally shuns any initiative for dispute settlement or conflict resolution, especially when it is done outside the system. As a result, the criminal justice system has missed a golden opportunity to reduce its caseload and to stop the repetition of certain offences through the reconciliation of the feuding parties” (p.49).
Fattah also appeals to Barnett’s (1977) theory on the advantages of pure restitution vs. punitive sanctions, shifting from principally retributive to restorative criminal justice. Drawing on Barnett’s arguments on how victims truly benefit when part of pure restitution justice, Fattah too argues that “One big advantage of a system centred upon restitution is that it would enjoy the unqualified support of most victims. There is overwhelming empirical evidence indicating that victims prefer reparative sanctions (such as restitution) to punitive sanctions, such as imprisonment or fines” (p.50).
Explicitly focused on victims of crime, Fattah provides his readers with a comprehensive discussion on how victims continue to be denied justice and how they are harmed due to the current retributive justice system. He states that “…for the vast majority of crime victims things have changed little, if at all, and some are most definitely worse off. Victims of property crimes, together with victims of abuse of political and economic power (by far the most numerous) have hardly been touched by the so-called new initiatives or the much-heralded reform” (p.78).
At this point in his book, Fattah next turns his focus directly to restorative justice. He initially again underscores the flaws of the retributive punishment paradigm. Fattah shares the many reasons why punishment alone is ineffective and particularly harmful to victims of crime. He states that “The interchangeability of the roles of victim and victimizer and the fact that crime is often a reaction to victimization, a means of self-help or of obtaining justice, mean that offenders, like those they harm or hurt, are victims in the true sense of the word” (p.85). He goes on to argue that “Luckily, victims have been rediscovered, and there are commendable efforts aimed at restoring their rights. These rights have to figure prominently in the new system of justice” (p.86).
Clearly, for Fattah, a new justice system is one where restorative justice is given a prominent role:
Restorative justice offers a great promise. It offers to move us, or instead to remove us, from the medieval system of punishment that has been in place for centuries to a new era of social reaction to harmful, injurious behaviours, to personal conflicts and disputes. It promises us a peaceful, constructive, less demanding, less costly, less wasteful. Less painful way of dealing with those who offend. (p.114)
Tailored specifically to victims of crime, Fattah argues that “Restorative justice gives victims the opportunity to identify predisposing, vulnerability and other victimogenic factors that might have invited, initiated, triggered, promoted or facilitated their victimization” (p.157). Clearly then, to empower victims of crime, it is prudent that we actively work to change the dominant criminal justice paradigm.
To conclude, Dr. Fattah’s recent book is a highly recommended read for anyone interested in critical criminology, peacebuilding, alternate dispute resolution, and victimology. One possible shortcoming is that Fattah’s book is a compilation of his life-long commitment to Canadian criminology and can be a bit overwhelming. Individual readers who are unfamiliar with the Canadian Criminal Justice System may find this book confusing. This book is a very dense book that can require many reads. Despite this, Fattah’s book is recommended for a broad audience, including criminologists, graduate-level students, and individuals who work in the Canadian Criminal Justice System.
DR. S.J. PIDWYSOCKY
ST. THOMAS UNIVERSITY (New Brunswick)