This article asserts that ‘transitional justice’ analyses provide important tools in understanding how societies emerge from violent politics. It argues for a conception of transitional justice that goes beyond the question of dealing with the legacy of past human rights violations; rather, its focus is on a range of inter-related dilemmas relating to the role of law in transitional societies. Specifically, the article explores the pivotal and paradoxical role played by law and legal process in times of transition. It examines the tensions inherent in simultaneously reforming the law while utilizing legal form to bring about institutional transformation. These broad theoretical issues are addressed using Northern Ireland as a case study. The role of law is examined (and a reassessment of transition offered), through an exploration of five inter-linked areas: The relationship between law and conflict; the transformation of legal institutions; dealing with the past; political accommodation and minority rights; and the gap which occurs around gender and political transition. The article concludes by suggesting that only through a broader understanding of transitional justice, coupled with a nuanced reassertion of law’s domestic and international legitimacy, can the role of law in transitional societies be adequately understood.
- Transitional justice