Restorative Justice

Models of Restorative Justice

Restorative processes bring those harmed by crime or conflict, and those responsible for the harm, into communication, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward.

There are a wide range of models of restorative practice which enable that communication to take place. All these practices should be underpinned by the RJC Principles of Restorative Practice (2004) and are covered by the Best Practice Guidance.

Here are some of models and approaches most commonly in use in the UK, all of which aim to enable participants to communicate in order to reduce the likelihood of harm, or repair a harm that has already been caused:

Victim-offender Mediation

This model is primarily used within the Criminal Justice System and involves a mediator/facilitator and the offender/person causing harm and the victim/person harmed. It can often involve supporters for either party and, a second or co- mediator/facilitator in some cases. The dialogue although guided by the mediator is allowed to flow freely between the parties following an agreement of the rules of the meeting. A contract can sometimes come at the end of the meeting but not always. 

Restorative Conferencing

This model is most often used in the CJS, although it is also used to deal with more serious incidents in schools, care homes and communities. The meetings consist of a facilitator, victim (person harmed) and the offender (person causing harm) and their supporters (usually family members). Professionals (such as social workers) and representatives of the wider community are sometimes also involved. Conferences follow a clear structure, with some facilitators choosing to follow a ‘script’ of set questions. Conferences conclude by forming an outcome agreement or contract for the offender (person causing harm) and then refreshments. 

Family Group Conferencing

A group meeting/conference where extended family and friends, are invited to come together with the aim of resolving conflict or behaviour. It can involve social workers, education welfare officers etc., whoever the facilitator may feel can offer support to the family and/or offender. 

There are two main forms of Family Group Conferencing, which were first introduced in New Zealand in 1989 and based on traditional Maori methods and later used in other countries, including the UK.

In the welfare Family Group Conference, a young person is invited to attend with his or her extended family and other persons who have a significant place in his life. After the problems have been outlined and agencies have explained what support is available, the family is given private time to work out an action plan for the young person.

The youth justice Family Group Conference is similar, except that the victim is also invited to attend, with a supporter if desired, and the action plan often contains restorative elements agreed with the victim, as well as elements focused on the welfare of the young person.

In both Northern Ireland and in New Zealand Youth Conferencing/Family Group Conferencing is used for the majority of offences by juveniles except homicide; they are used in more serious cases, either in lieu of prosecution or at the pre-sentence stage; in the majority of cases the agreed plan is endorsed by the court.

Community Conferencing

A meeting involving a large number of members of a community affected by a particular crime or conflict, facilitated as a restorative conference, it differs from the restorative conference in that it can involve many people. In the UK it is often facilitated by police officers and has been use to deal very effectively with anti-social behaviour. 

Community Mediation/Community Justice Panels

Both these models use community volunteers trained in restorative practice to resolve low level crime. Community Mediation is often used in neighbour disputes to resolve conflicts where there is harm on both sides, rather than there being a clear victim and offender. 

Indirect restorative processes

Where the offender and/or the victim do not wish to meet; other options should be offered to enable communication to take place. This can include the mediator / facilitator providing ‘shuttle’ mediation between participants to convey questions and information. Communication can also be enabled in many different forms, such as letters, videos, teleconferencing etc. Indirect processes can be used as preparation for a face to face meeting or as a stand- alone response, depending on the needs and wishes of the participants. 


A process which, encourages the use of many restorative skills and values – mutual respect, empathy, active listening, impartiality, non-judgmental acceptance of difference and win-win problem solving. Circle meetings can be used with young people to begin a lesson, as a morning meeting, to close the day or at any time. They can be used for team building, developing emotional literacy, celebration, planning new projects, as well as dealing with behavioural issues and conflicts. 

They can be used by staff teams (whole staff as well as smaller groupings like departments and faculties) to build trust and communication and a sense of shared purpose.

The process begins by sitting in a circle (preferably on chairs of the same height, in an airy room where there will be no interruptions) and passing a ‘talking piece’. Only when holding the ‘talking piece’ can a person speak if they have chosen to. Team-building circles can also involve games, pair and small group activities and creative work.

Informal uses of restorative skills

Restorative Practice also includes the use of restorative skills to deal with conflict informally. For example police may use restorative approaches on the street to deal with minor incidents and, teachers ‘modelling’ restorative practice in their relations with students, parents and teachers might be more realistic and effective. 

Language and terminology

Outside of the criminal justice system the language of victims and offenders is usually not appropriate. Participants may be referred to as ‘the person harmed’ and those ‘who caused the harm’. The terms restorative practices or restorative approaches are often used, rather than the term restorative justice.