We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

restorative justice

Restorative justice referrals in 2019 were less than 1%, and 2023 figures don't look any better

Restorative justice allows for a person convicted of a crime to meet with the victim of that crime.

LESS THAN 1% of criminal cases were referred to restorative justice in 2019 and referrals have not increases since pandemic restrictions were eased either, as 2023 levels remained the same.

Restorative justice allows for a person convicted of a crime to meet with the victim of that crime, usually before sentencing, and is facilitated by an independent third party.

Although cases are not required to be referred in Ireland, the findings by Dr Ian Marder’s research of Maynooth University reflect that the procedure is rarely used.

Sinn Féin TD and spokesperson for justice Pa Daly said the figures represent a “failure” of Government innovation and highlight the need for legislation to be in place that puts an onus on the parties involved to make the accused and victims aware of the scheme.

It is understood that a total of 447 cases were referred to restorative justice in 2023 and most cases were carried out by one organisation, the Restorative Justice Services in Dublin. These referrals match the low-levels of those in 2019.

For the process to start, a judge or garda must actively offer or recommend that a meeting take place. The case is referred to the Probation Service’s Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit, Probation Officers and independent third parties.

In many cases, the third parties require the victim’s contact information to be given to them by An Garda Síochána, though it is understood that there are major complications and unclear communication pathways between the two parties.

Often, the information is not sent to the organisation for a variety of reasons, including GDPR complications.

Both parties, the convicted and the victim(s), must consent in order for the meeting to take place. However, currently there are no clear, incentivised referral pathways in the judicial system for a judge or garda to recommend restorative justice to either person.

In other jurisdictions, such as New Zealand, a judge is required to adjourn proceedings after a conviction and before sentencing to offer the accused a restorative justice meeting. No such procedure takes place in Ireland.

It is understood that, in most cases, judges will most commonly offer restorative justice to a person who is convicted of a low-level offence, such as drug possession.

There are no guidelines for judges to deem the suitability of an offer for a restorative justice meeting currently. In the victim’s case, they usually have to ask gardaí or the judicial system for restorative justice to take place.

Though current legislation States a judge can take it into account when considering the sentence if both parties consent to meet, the current framework does not usually have any influence over sentencing.

Kerry TD Pa Daly said the mapping exercise conducted by Marder, a researcher and academic at the Maynooth University’s School of Law and Criminology, shows that the use of restorative justice has decreased from the already low levels since pandemic restrictions were eased.

Daly said: “Last year, I moved the Criminal Justice (Promotion of Restorative Justice) (Amendment) Bill 2023, along with Sinn Féin colleagues and with the help of Dr. Marder.

“The Bill would help to promote the use of restorative justice, giving a clearer legislative framework for the same.”

Most parties in government have publicly supported restorative justice and it was included in the current Programme for Government and the Department of Justice has conducted policy papers into the topic.

However, according to Marder, the State needs to “take several actions to support the development of restorative justice”.

He told The Journal: “Awareness is an issue. We need to demonstrate the meaning and value of restorative justice to the judiciary in the District and Circuit Courts, the Gardaí and Probation Officers so that as many people as possible are offered the chance to decide if restorative justice is right for them.

“It should be made available to victims of all crime types and at all stages of the justice process.

“This requires a greater investment in the capacity of restorative justice providers to offer and deliver restorative justice,” he added.

Daly said that restorative justice can “enable a victim and an offender or alleged offender to communicate, with their consent and facilitated by an impartial third party, in order to address and repair the harm done by the offence through dialogue and reparation”.

“This allows the offender or alleged offender to address and repair the harm done by the offence to others with a stake in what happens, and to society at large.

Marder said that many other comparable jurisdictions have legal frameworks and procedures that require referrals to be made or that require victims to automatically receive information from restorative justice providers.

“Legal change or service-level agreements here could be used to this effect,” he said.

Daly has reiterated his call for Government to engage with the legislative proposal, particularly in the context of high levels of prison overcrowding. 

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel