Changing the course of justice for victims and offenders

After being on the receiving end of a criminal offence you might find it uncomfortable to talk to the perpetrator. But what if you could use that opportunity to get answers and explain the impact the offence had on your life?

statue balancing weights

In 2001, Professor Joanna Shapland and her research team at the University of Sheffield took on a momentous research project. They were to evaluate three restorative justice schemes involving serious offences in England and Wales and the effect they had on perpetrators’ reoffending and victims’ needs. This research was the first major evaluation of its kind in the world. Two decades later this work has moved further afield and is now changing the way Scotland approaches rehabilitation and justice. 

Restorative justice brings those harmed by crime or conflict, and those responsible for the harm, into communication. It provides a safe, mediated space for the two parties to talk, allowing them both to play a part in repairing the damage and finding a positive way forward. For it to take place, both parties must voluntarily come forward and the offender has to admit responsibility for the offence. However, depending on the crime committed, restorative justice may not always be appropriate, particularly for complex cases with power imbalances, such as many instances of domestic abuse.

But restorative justice can be incredibly useful for other circumstances. Joanna and her team found that, out of the participants who had been harmed, 80 per cent were satisfied with the process and outcome. “

Those who’ve been harmed find the ability to communicate and ask questions really helpful and it tends to increase their faith in criminal justice. It also significantly reduces the frequency of reconviction by offenders afterwards.

Professor Joanna Shapland

School of Law at the University of Sheffield

Because of her research, in October 2014 Joanna was appointed Chair of the Restorative Justice Forum (Scotland), the major body for developing restorative justice policy in Scotland. The forum, which is officially observed by the Scottish government, brings together senior policy makers from Scottish statutory and voluntary sector agencies with academics. It includes a practitioners' forum, bringing together restorative justice facilitators from agencies all over Scotland, and a researchers' forum, to inform the growing body of research and evaluation.

For Scotland, the forum has become the first point of call for all things restorative justice. As a result, the forum was asked by the Scottish government to help draft statutory guidance on the topic. “The guidance was to set out the values which should inform and embody restorative justice practices,” explains Joanna. “It also needed to highlight the key principles of good practice, including the role of facilitators and the importance of risk assessments prior to the two parties communicating.” By October 2017 the guidance was published by the Scottish government. "It now provides good practice guidance for the first time for all those working with both adults and young people who have harmed, as well as informing agencies as to what needs to be set up."

In addition to guidance for the Scottish government the forum is now helping to make the government's action plan happen. It’s designed to support "the Scottish government’s commitment to have restorative justice services widely available across Scotland by 2023, with the interests of victims at their heart". This puts restorative justice at the forefront of government priorities. Much like the guidance, work on the action plan will formulate the best ways to deliver restorative justice on the ground in Scotland, and inform both practitioners and the general public, including those who have been harmed and those who have harmed. The forum has also developed a much needed toolkit.

This is material we hope will help practitioners who are developing restorative justice practices. It’s a whole collection of resources and example policies and documents which can be used by agencies developing their own policies and practices around Scotland. 

Professor Joanna Shapland

School of Law at the University of Sheffield

“Restorative justice is important because it enables those who have harmed and those who have been on the receiving end to communicate with each other. They can get answers. It also has the potential to break down barriers and empowers those who’ve been harmed to have their say and express the impact it’s had on their life,” says Joanna. Joanna's research and the work of the Restorative Justice Forum continues to have an impact. It’s encouraged the Scottish government to make restorative justice a priority. In doing so, they are reducing the likelihood of reoffending and reconviction as well as providing much needed closure to those involved.

Written by Alicia Shephard, Research Marketing and Content Coordinator 

Graphics by Ella Marke, Visual Designer

Further information  


Restorative Justice Action Plan

Relevant research

Does restorative justice affect reconviction?

Restorative Justice in Practice

Restorative justice: the views of victims and offenders


Police Knowledge Fund

Ministry of Justice

For further information contact: 

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