Government reaffirms commitment to restorative justice at webinar

Government reaffirms commitment to restorative justice at webinar

The government reaffirmed its commitment to restorative justice at a webinar co-hosted with Restorative Justice: Strategies for Change (RJS4C).

Over 160 people attended the 90-minute webinar yesterday, which was held to mark International Restorative Justice Week. A recording is available online.

RJS4C project partners, Department officials and government minister James Browne discussed recent developments in restorative justice in Ireland and internationally, and plans to enhance and expand the use of restorative justice in Ireland in the coming years.

Introduced by Ursula Fernée of the Probation Service, Mr Browne, the minister of state for law reform, highlighted international research and best practice indicating the potential benefits of restorative justice for victims and perpetrators of all offences, including where serious harm has taken place.

He also spoke about the need to establish a more cohesive restorative justice service across Ireland, and outlined the objectives of the corresponding Programme for Government commitment and provisions of a recent government report on supporting victims of sexual violence.

The Programme for Government committed to “[working] with all criminal justice agencies to build capacity to deliver restorative justice, safely and effectively”.

Deaglán Ó Briain from the Department of Justice described the restorative justice and practice elements of the forthcoming youth justice strategy and the training in restorative practices for youth workers working within Garda Youth Diversion Projects that will happen in 2021.

He contextualised this work with reference to other evidence-led programmes, such as creating targeted approaches for young adults, collaborating with the Department of Health and implementing court accompaniment services for victims nationwide.

Mr Ó Briain’s intervention was bookended with talks by Dr Ian Marder of Maynooth University Department of Law, who spoke initially about the RJS4C team’s work and the national and institutional developments in 2020.

He described ongoing training and other activities by the Irish Prison Service College, the mentions of restorative practices in recent reports by the Inspector of Prisons, and efforts by restorative justice providers to adapt to Covid-19 and expand their services. He also outlined work, funded by the Department of Justice, to develop a dedicated website for restorative justice in Ireland, and to collect case studies and conduct a mapping exercise which would be published on that website in early 2021.

Dr Marder’s second piece focused in turn on the UN, which published its Handbook on Restorative Justice Programmes (2nd ed.); the EU, which published its 2020-2025 Strategy on Victims’ Rights; and the Council of Europe, which is working on two recommendations incorporating restorative justice provisions. He then described work being undertaken by partners in other jurisdictions, including Scotland, Estonia, the Netherland and Czechia.

There was a lively Q&A session involving conversations around the use of restorative justice in cases without named or direct victims, to support the reintegration of people upon leaving prison, and in response to hate crime (among other contexts discussed).

Closing the event, Ben Ryan, assistant secretary in the Department of Justice, noted that restorative justice is fundamentally about relationships, and that stakeholders should continue collaborating to enhance Ireland’s capacity in this area.

Commenting after the event, Dr Marder told Irish Legal News: “We were delighted that so many people were present to listen to the minister of state and Department of Justice officials speak about their commitment to developing restorative justice. It was fantastic to hear so much about the need for multi-agency cooperation and to look to research evidence and international best practice.”

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