What is restorative justice?
Restorative justice is when a conversation takes place between a victim, a person who has committed a crime against them, and an independent person who is trained to prepare and manage such conversations. The independent person can be a Garda, a Probation Officer, or a person who works with a Community-Based Organisation that offers restorative justice.
The victim and offender may choose to meet face-to-face for this conversation, in which case a supporter, such as a family member, can normally accompany them. If they prefer, the victim and offender can instead communicate indirectly through the independent person (for example, by exchanging letters).
Restorative justice is voluntary for all parties. It can only take place when all participants give informed consent. The process supports victims to overcome the harm caused by the crime by giving them an opportunity to tell their story and get answers to questions that are of direct concern to them. They can tell the person who offended against them about the impact that the crime had on them. This helps that person to see the consequences of the crime and – as much as possible – to repair the harm caused. This gives the victim a voice and means the person responsible is held to account in a meaningful way.
Restorative justice challenges people who commit crime to take responsibility, put right the harm done and refrain from further offending so that they can take their place again as law-abiding members of the community.
This page provides information about the operation of restorative justice in the Irish criminal justice system. It includes information on how restorative justice works and about the circumstances in which people may be able to access restorative justice.
How does restorative justice work?
There are several models of restorative justice. These generally involve the participation of a victim of crime and the person who committed that offence. Depending on the circumstances of the offence and the parties’ needs, it may be appropriate for relevant family members, friends, volunteers, members of the community, or persons from state agencies to participate in the process.
There are many different ways of organising the practice of restorative justice. Examples of restorative justice models operating in Ireland include:
Victim Offender Mediation (VOM) and Restorative Conferences
Victim Offender Mediation (VOM) provides an opportunity for a victim and an offender to meet in a safe, controlled setting, assisted by a trained mediator. After independently preparing each party to meet, the mediator facilitates a discussion between the victim and offender with the aim of addressing and repairing the harm caused. Victim-related actions, such as apologies and reparation, can be agreed, as can actions aimed at preventing reoffending. Meetings between victims and offenders are sometimes called Restorative Conferences, usually when the parties decide to bring a supporter.
In the case of offenders aged under 18 who are included in the Garda Youth Diversion Programme, victims may be invited to VOM under the Children Act 2001. This is facilitated by a Garda (Juvenile Liaison Officer).
In the case of adult offenders, the Court may request that VOM be explored before or after sentencing, or a Community Based Organisation working with the offender may explore this. Participation is still voluntary for all parties.
If the person who committed the offence is under probation supervision or in prison, the victim or offender may contact the Probation Service’s Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit (contact details below) to request that VOM is explored in their case.
Family Conferences are meetings referred by the Courts in the case of young people who are prosecuted, and organised by the Probation Service under the Children Act 2001. Under the programme, the victim, young offender and offender’s family are offered the opportunity to meet to talk about the offence and consider how the young person can take responsibility, make amends for what happened, and prevent it from happening again. This is facilitated by a Probation Officer. If the conference is successful, the young person will be diverted from the criminal justice system with no formal criminal record.
In the case of offenders aged under 18 who are included in the Garda Youth Diversion Programme, victims may be also invited to conferences under the Children Act 2001. This is facilitated by a Garda (Juvenile Liaison Officer).
At both types of conference, victim-related actions, such as apologies and reparation, can be agreed, as can actions aimed at preventing reoffending.
Offender Reparation Panels
Managed by Community-Based Organisations and funded by the Probation Service, Offender Reparation Panels involve a meeting between the offender and representatives from the community, the Probation Service and An Garda Síochána to talk about the causes and harmful effects of an offence. District and Circuit Courts in areas where Offender Reparation Panels operate can refer cases in between conviction and sentencing.
At this meeting, paying attention to the victim's perspective, various actions are agreed aimed at putting things right and preventing it from happening again. If the offence has an identifiable victim (such as an assault or burglary), the discussion also explores the victim’s possible involvement in mediation or another form of communication with the offender.
How to access restorative justice
If you are a victim of crime and the offender is under 18, you could be invited to take part in restorative justice by An Garda Síochána (if the young person receives a caution) or the Probation Service (if the young person is prosecuted at Court). You can also signal your interest in restorative justice by speaking to the Garda in your case, or by contacting the Probation Service’s Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit.
If you are a victim of crime and the offender is over 18, An Garda Síochána can give you information about restorative justice, or you may be contacted by the Probation Service or a Community-Based Organisation to explore whether restorative justice is an option in your case. You can also signal your interest in restorative justice by speaking to the Garda in your case, or by contacting the Probation Service’s Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit.
You can contact the Probation Service’s Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit (RJVSU) using the details below. They will respond in a safe and professional manner if you ask to be involved in restorative justice. Participation is always completely voluntary for all parties, including the offender. The RJVSU will explain each step of the process and support the parties to make a decision.
You can read more about the organisations that deliver restorative justice in Ireland on restorativejustice.ie.
To contact the Probation Service Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit (RJVSU):
To contact the An Garda Síochána Youth Diversion Bureau: