By Roger Matthews
Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff
Citation: Informal Justice. Roger Matthews, ed.London: Sage Publications, 1988, 211 pp.
Informal Justice is a collection of essays which evaluate informal justice systems in both practical and theoretical terms. The authors assess the practical benefits of informal justice, and the explore the relation between informal justice, formal justice, state power and social control.
Informal Justice will be of interest to those seeking to understand the conceptual background which supports moves toward community justice, alternative dispute resolution, and the like. This work is divided into eight essays. In the introductory essay, Matthews describes the expansion of informal justice systems. He describes the initial justifications for developing such systems, and then assesses the success and failure of informal justice systems to produce their intended benefit.
Tony Marshall asks whether informal justice systems provide more or less justice that traditional court-based legal justice system. He surveys critiques of the community justice movement, and describes the principles which underlie the movement. Marshall argues that "movements away from the traditional legal justice system are movements toward not only alternative methods but also alternative justice."
Maureen Cain argues that the different types of informal justice are often confused, making adequate evaluation of informal justice systems difficult. She distinguishes among various types of informal justice, and offers criterion for assessing progress.
Anne Bottomley and Jeremy Roche critique the language used by informal justice systems. Informal justice emphasizes decision making by the involved parties, consensus and agreement, as opposed to conflict, winning and losing. The authors discuss the extent to which informal justice actually offers a new paradigm of justice.
David Nelken examines the use of social work contracts as a form of social control. He seeks to "re-examine and redefine the theoretical conceptualizations we need to use to address related strategies of regulation and control in contemporary western societies."
David Smith, Harry Blagg and Nick Derricourt present the case study of court- based victim/offender reconciliation in South Yorkshire, Britain.
Marshall surveys the British experience with informal justice more broadly. He identifies twelve commonly proposed goals of informal justice, and evaluates current British informal justice systems in terms of those goals.
Peter Fitzpatrick analyses and contrasts the formalism of traditional legal justice with the informalism of community justice. He describes the appeal and danger of informalism, both in practice and within academic circles.
Informal Justice evaluates the promise and shortcomings of informal justice systems. These essays tend to focus on the theoretical level, and so will be most helpful to the reader with some background in criminology or socio-legal studies.