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Last edited: December 21, 2011

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The justice sector in all countries is pluralistic, meaning there are many different mechanisms that overlap to provide people with resolution of cases and remedies for violations committed against them. Some of these mechanisms are “formal”, in other words sanctioned and within the power of the State (e.g. national courts); others are “informal” and completely out of State control (e.g. community-based case resolution practices). Informal justice mechanisms, in particular, often reflect customary or prevailing attitudes of the community towards women and girl victims of violence and consequently often present risks to victim safety and gaps in accountability of perpetrators. Other justice mechanisms are a mixture of the two (e.g. programmes that arrive at a community consensus regarding a sentence for an offender after that offender has been found guilty in the formal courts). In a federal state, cases can be addressed through sub-national justice systems, where they are not handled with legislative uniformity across the country.


Common Types of Justice Mechanisms

Several terms are regularly used when discussing justice mechanisms. Some working definitions are provided below. This is by no means an exhaustive list of types of justice mechanisms and is only a reference set of terms that are commonly discussed. it is important to note that negotiation, conciliation, mediation, and restorative justice mechanisms can be detrimental in cases of violence against women because of power imbalances and safety risks for women interacting with perpetrators during face-to-face meetings.

Negotiation: A process through which parties voluntarily seek a mutually acceptable agreement to resolve a case.

Conciliation: A process through which a third party meets separately with each party to a case in an attempt to promote a settlement; often that is the first step in other resolution processes.

Mediation: A process through which a neutral third party negotiates a resolution to a case.  Mediators, also known as facilitators, do not impose a decision or solution.

Restorative Justice: A process through which generally survivors and offenders, their families, and representatives of the community are all directly involved in responding to the harm caused by an offender’s actions.

Some examples of restorative justice include sentencing circles, family group conferencing, survivor-offender mediation and dialogue, peacemaking circles, and other programmes that focus on repairing communal and other relationships.

Arbitration: A neutral third party hears the parties’ arguments and imposes a decision that is enforceable through the courts or other mechanism; this decision may be binding or non-binding.

Litigation: A process through which parties present their case to a formal court and follow the procedures of that court to reach a resolution.

Prosecution: A process through which the government initiates and pursues a criminal case in a formal court against someone who is believed to have committed a crime. The outcome may be that the accused person is acquitted (found not to have committed the crime or guilt not proved beyond a reasonable doubt) or that the person is found guilty and a criminal penalty, such as incarceration, is imposed.


Sources: U.S. National Institute of Justice. 2007. Fundamental Concepts of Restorative Justice; U.S. Agency for International Development. 1998. Alternative Dispute Resolution Practitioners Guide.