The right to a referral or the right to Restorative Justice?

Published: Friday, August 11th, 2023

In this blog, our Communications and Events Coordinator Keeva Baxter explores the difference between the right to be referred to a Restorative Justice service and the right to Restorative Justice. This is based on the conversations we have been having around the inclusion of Restorative Justice in the Victims and Prisoners Bill. 


One challenge faced time and time again by the restorative sector is the assumption that we want everyone affected by crime to be entitled to a Restorative Justice conference. While we believe that everyone should be given information on Restorative Justice and the chance to speak to an expert and explore their options, this doesn’t mean everyone has the right to go through to a conference. It is an important distinction. 

This is an issue which frequently arises in conversations with decision makers and Government officials who say they cannot legislate for a right to a Restorative Justice referral for fear that people would be forced to take part or it would be used in cases that weren’t suitable. All too often the counter argument used by many decision-makers focuses on how Restorative Justice may not be “appropriate” for all cases and therefore information on it should not be shared with everyone harmed by crime. This takes the choice away from the person affected by crime, denying them the opportunity to explore a tool that could be transformative for them. It also means they don’t have the chance to talk to an expert Restorative Justice practitioner which can be a powerful conversation in itself. 

Whilst a face to face meeting often provides the best restorative outcomes, indirect processes such as letter-writing, a shuttle process or video recordings can be equally as powerful as a face to face meeting and more suitable for some people for a variety of reasons. 

In the recent discussion around Restorative Justice in the House of Commons, the Minister of State for Victims and Sentencing, the Rt. Hon. Edward Argar said that “we must be cautious of a general entitlement to access to Restorative Justice because that wouldn’t necessarily always be appropriate”. These words imply that it is the job of Government, legislation or referrers to decide the suitability of a case, rather than the Restorative Justice experts. We believe that the decision about the suitability and safety of a restorative case should be taken by expert Restorative Justice facilitators. This ensures that no one misses out on what could be a transformative process for their healing, and saves the time of hard-pressed criminal justice professionals. This demonstrates a common misunderstanding around what a Restorative Justice referral means and the lack of awareness around the extensive risk-assessment and safeguarding that skilled RJ practitioners undertake in  a restorative process. 

We cannot entitle people to a restorative meeting as this would negate the principle of consent that Restorative Justice relies upon. The restorative process is also completely voluntary meaning that all participants need to give consent and can withdraw at any time. If one party is interested in having a Restorative Justice meeting but the other is not, a conference or face to face meeting wouldn’t be possible. Instead, the interested party could explore options such as a restorative conversation with a facilitator. But, regardless of who initiates the process, it will not go ahead unless everyone is on board and willing to take part and the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved is paramount. 

By giving everyone affected by crime the right to be referred to a Restorative Justice service, we ensure the decision is made by experts, using robust processes to ensure it is both safe and productive. You are not guaranteeing them a face-to-face meeting or promising that the other party will be involved. However, it does guarantee that individuals  have the opportunity to explore their options and, crucially, allows them to have a choice about their healing and whether a restorative process would help, rather than this choice being made for them. For those harmed, this in itself can give them back a sense of agency and autonomy, which has often been damaged by what has happened and by the criminal justice process, and can be the first step in their healing journey. 

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