Let’s Talk About Compassion as the Foundation of a Solution Focus in Sentencing.

Dr Anthony Hopkins1

1Australian National University, Acton, Australia

At heart, adopting a solution focus in sentencing involves understanding the lived experiences of those who come before the court and using this understanding as a platform to promote positive change. It requires engaging with participants as human beings entitled to equal respect and equal consideration. And this requires paying particular attention to each participant’s individual struggle and working actively to empower them to realise their potential. So described, adopting a solution focus is congruent with both ‘equality before the law’ and an ‘ethic of care’ (King, 2010). Indeed, it is argued that these as complementary and interdependent values. But what motivates and supports the pursuit of these values in solution focused sentencing processes? Utility – understood as ‘what works’ – is key. So too is principle, and the rectitude of promoting equality as an end in itself. Yet to stop here is to miss the deeper foundation that underlies the pursuit of solutions in sentencing. That foundation is compassion: ‘the capacity to be open to the reality of suffering and to aspire to its healing’ (Feldman and Kuken, 2011). It is compassion that ‘enables us to be motivated to engage with suffering, to stay with it and understand its causes in a non-judgement way’, and it is compassion that ‘enables us skilfully to work toward the alleviation and prevention of suffering and its causes’ (Gilbert and Choden 2014).  If it is accepted that a foundation of compassion best enables the pursuit of solutions in sentencing, there is much to be gained from naming compassion as a key attribute of professionals involved in the work of solution focused courts and supporting them to further cultivate a compassionate mind.


Anthony Hopkins is a criminal defence barrister in the ACT and a Senior Lecturer at the ANU College of Law. He began his career as a lawyer working at the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service in Alice Springs. Anthony’s teaching and research interests include a focus on why it is essential that particular attention be paid to the historical and contemporary experience of Indigenous Australians at all stages of the criminal justice process. He has a personal and professional commitment to holistic approaches to rehabilitation and personal change, born, in part, from his continuing Vipassana meditation practise.


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