As the Deputy will be aware, restorative justice is a criminal justice process which has been shown to help victims recover from crime, reduce reoffending and save public resources and it is now widely accepted that restorative justice is compatible with the traditional criminal justice systems of both common law and civil law jurisdictions.
The Programme for Government includes a commitment to work with all criminal justice agencies to build capacity to deliver restorative justice safely and effectively. In this context, the Probation Service has formally recognised restorative justice since the 1990s as one method within a suite of measures to provide an effective response to crime. In 2000, two dedicated community based projects were established; the Restorative Justice Service, and Restorative Justice in the Community, both of which have since extended their catchment areas and now offer services across the Greater Dublin area, as well as Tipperary, Laois and Offaly, respectively. These were established and funded through the Probation Service and both projects provide a restorative justice service to the courts through the use of reparation panels and /or victim offender mediation.
Significant developments since then include a report of the National Commission on Restorative Justice which was published in 2009 and the Report of the Penal Policy Review Group published in 2014. Both reports supported the wider application of Restorative Justice in probation practice. The Commission's report recommended that the Probation Service continue to be the lead agency in implementing the wider application of restorative justice.
In addition, Section 78 of the Children Act (2001) made provision for the introduction of the Probation Family Conference. Following the commencement of the Act in 2005, this was rolled out through Young Persons Probation, a dedicated part of the Probation Service established to deliver the community sanctions provided for in the Act. While conferencing has now been integrated in to the supervision of some young people, the number of referrals from the courts has declined in recent years.
More recent developments in this area include the establishment in 2018 of the dedicated Restorative Justice and Victims Services Unit in the Probation Service in response to the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017. Furthermore, the Joint Action Plan for the Management of Offenders 2019-2021 also contains a commitment to develop joint arrangements, including victim/offender mediation, for providing victims of crime with opportunities for positive, restorative responses to the harm they have experienced.
The Probation Service and my Department are stakeholders in a four year cross-European project (2019-2023), Restorative Justice: Strategies for Change (RJS4C), with partners from ten countries collaborating to implement the Council of Europe Recommendation that restorative justice should be available at any stage of the Criminal Justice process to any victim and any offender. To this end, the RJS4C has produced an Restorative Justice Collective Strategy for Ireland 2019-2023 to promote and increase awareness and accessibility to Restorative Justice.
The delivery of Restorative Justice safely and effectively is one of the strategic objectives for the Department over the next three years. Five high level actions have been identified and outlined in the Justice Plan 2021, two of which have been completed to date, including the mapping of the current state of play of Restorative Justice and the activation of a Restorative Justice case study website. In January this year Minister of State Browne launched restorativejustice.ie. which is funded by the Department. This website maps the use of Restorative Justice in criminal justice in Ireland and contains over 35 case studies of both restorative justice and restorative practice and other resources.
Further actions planned for quarter three and four include; the development of options for an appropriate mechanism and process to create awareness and availability of Restorative Justice at all stages of the criminal justice system, with consistency of service ensuring quality in training and practice; consultations with stakeholders; and the finalisation of a policy paper. It is intended to publish the policy proposals by year end.
To further progress and deliver on the above, it is proposed that an Action Plan will be developed by my Department and the Probation Service this year. Key components will include establishing a mechanism and process to create greater awareness and availability of Restorative Justice interventions at all stages of the criminal justice system and further training and development for those delivering Restorative Justice interventions - ensuring consistency and quality of service provision. In accepting this as a policy driver, the main challenge to applying it in practice is national accessibility and consultation with key stakeholders which will be central to development of the Action Plan.
I believe that it is also important to note that the Department’s plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases, Supporting A Victim's Journey, also contains commitments to scope requirements for a more integrated consistent, visible and high quality Restorative Justice service for vulnerable victims who wish to pursue that pathway.