The disturbing case of Albert Holland whose lawyer failed to adequately represent him points out a growing problem with our traditional courts:  the focus on the law and rules vs. the facts and merits of particular cases in making rulings.

Most American legal cases are being decided on procedure and law, “the rules,” and not on equity or the merits of cases. See Michael J. Sandel’s Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy.

The merits are about people and the particular facts about their unique experience in every conflict.  Our courts should be places where people can go to find fairness and justice.  Court should be a place where people know they can go to have the facts of their cases heard and considered by other people, judges, who care.

Restorative justice considers people and respects their voices in describing situations.  Restorative justice allows people to consider and say what they need to make things right.

It is likely that people embrace restorative justice because retributive justice, and traditional courts, ignore the merits of cases, which is simply contrary to the nature of life.  Life is not all about rules and who followed procedures, but about our stories and our particular situations.

We have criminalized many of our serious social problems including substance abuse and mental health, that now the courts are faced with dealing them.  It’s tough to face these problems especially when you’ve only been trained as a lawyer.  It is no wonder that many lawyers, judges and communities are turning to restorative justice.  It is a healthy response to these social problems, and one that recognizes following rules alone does not ensure justice.