Dalhousie Journal of Legal Studies


In a sentencing circle, the participants in a conventional criminal sentencing hearing (the accused and counsel, Crown counsel, and the judge) are joined by others normally excluded from the process: the victim(s) of the offence, the police officers involved, and members and officials of the accused's First Nation community. Tables and chairs are arranged in a circle. To encourage the participation of the offender, the judge declares the maximum possible terms of sentence. Once this and any other appropriate opening statements are made, each person seated in the circle has an equal opportunity to speak about the needs of the offender and of the victim, about any constraints on the community's participation in the rehabilitation of the offender, or about any other concerns the participants might have. Perhaps most significant is the opportunity for the victim, the offender, and the community to speak at this crucial stage of the criminal process. They are the people who will be most affected by the sentence, therefore they should be the main participants in the sentencing process. Because some degree of consensus is required, the process might continue for hours, or even for days. The ideal result is a sentence shaped by all participants and endorsed by the community that will be participating in its implementation. The circle has been employed only rarely in the criminal sentencing process in Canada, mostly in northern and western Canada. This note examines R. v. Moses, one of the earliest reported cases in which a sentencing circle was used. In his reasons, Stuart, Terr. Ct. J. undertakes an extensive survey of the merits of the process.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.