A Crack in Everything: Restorative Possibilities of Plea-Based Sentencing Courts


  • Simon Owen LLM (British Columbia)




Restorative justice, as a philosophy and set of practices, has traditionally been conceived of as existing separate from, indeed in opposition to, the more retributive ethic of mainstream, court-based justice proceses.  Considered as such a polarized alternative, restorative justice has largely been unable to dislodge the dominant hold that formal, professionally managed public courts maintain over the resolution of criminal wrongs.  Other commentators, however, argue that restorative and retributive concepts of justice are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  This article explores court-based sentencing processes through a restorative lens, and suggests that while Canadian law formally privileges a retributive approach to sentencing, it also endorses practices that are more resonant with restorative values.  In practice. sentencing courts that draw energy and guidance from restorative justice principles are more successful at including offenders in dialogues and determinations of just outcomes.  Thus, a formally retributive sentencing framework actually benefits from the incorporation of restorative principles and practices.  The marriage of these concepts of justice, is however, hampered by the antagonistic concerns of efficiency and uniformity in sentencing.

Author Biography

Simon Owen, LLM (British Columbia)

Simon currently practices criminal defence law in Thunder Bay and Sioux Lookout, Ontario.  He is interested in the potential of restorative justice processes within public institutions, particularly in the area of criminal, intercultural justice.  His academic and professional explorations have taken him from the Coast Salish territories on Vancouver Island, to South Africa and New Zealand, and back to Canada's Inuit, Gitxsan Ojibway, and Cree Nations.