Restorative justice: action plan

This action plan supports our commitment to have restorative justice (RJ) services widely available across Scotland by 2023.

Restorative Justice and Background to the Action Plan


This action plan supports the Scottish Government’s commitment to have restorative justice (RJ) services widely available across Scotland by 2023, with the interests of victims at their heart. 

RJ seeks to provide communities and individuals impacted by crime, offending and harmful or concerning behaviours and those who have caused the harm with an opportunity to repair the harm that has been caused. 

Our vision is that Restorative Justice is available across Scotland to all those who wish to access it, and at a time that is appropriate to the people and case involved. Approaches taken must be consistent, evidence-led, trauma informed and of a high standard. This seeks to ensure the needs of persons harmed and their voices are central, and supports a reduction in harmful behaviour across our communities.

Achieving this ambitious vision will require strong leadership, commitment and meaningful collaboration between national and local partners.

"Restorative Justice can lead to a route out of crime and provide closure and redress to victims and communities. We know that it can empower victims of crime and reduce offending. We want to have restorative justice services widely available across Scotland by 2023 with the interests of victims at their heart. We will publish a Restorative Justice Action Plan by spring 2019 that will set out how we deliver this aim."
(Delivering for today, investing for tomorrow: the Government’s programme for Scotland 2018-2019)

What Is Restorative Justice?

The Scottish Government Guidance for the Delivery of Restorative Justice in Scotland[1] defines RJ as:

‘... a process of independent, facilitated contact, which supports constructive dialogue between a victim and a person who has harmed (whether this be an adult, a child, a young person or a representative of a corporate or other body) arising from an offence or alleged offence.’

RJ in Scotland will always be voluntary for those who wish to take part in it, whether they are the individual or community harmed or someone who has caused harm. This process is offered as a further option in how justice can be experienced across the communities of Scotland. 

RJ gives people harmed the chance to meet, or communicate with, the people who have harmed them. Those harmed can explain the impact it has had on their lives to the person responsible within a safe and supportive setting. It can also give those harmed a sense of closure.

It provides those who have caused harm with an opportunity to consider the impact of the harm and take responsibility for it, with the aim of reducing the likelihood of further offending. In some circumstances it can also allow them to make amends for the harm caused. In addition, RJ can be appropriate and helpful for children and young people who have harmed, where there is a need to safeguard and protect their interests. 

It is recognised that in all cases a robust risk assessment and support process must be in place that allows for an informed decision to be made as to the appropriateness of RJ. This must be based on careful consideration of all the facts and circumstances of the harmful behaviour. 

Consistent with practice in many other jurisdictions, more stringent guidelines and highly trained facilitators will be required should RJ be used in more sensitive or complex cases of harm. For example when there may have been a deliberate course of conduct or coercion by the person who has harmed over a prolonged period of time.

In line with the Scottish Government Guidance for the Delivery of Restorative Justice, risk assessments must be carried out throughout the RJ process and will take full cognisance of the role of The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) as the independent public prosecution service for Scotland. In that respect, RJ will not impinge on any ongoing criminal proceedings. Decisions relating to the prosecution or diversion of a case from prosecution are matters solely for COPFS.

What impact can RJ have?

On those harmed

There is strong and consistent evidence that RJ benefits people subjected to harmful behaviour by others. Evidence reviews have found that people harmed who participate in RJ experience less fear of re‑victimisation, a reduced desire for violent revenge and fewer symptoms of post-traumatic stress. RJ can also increase their satisfaction with how their case was handled, with several studies[2] indicating high satisfaction with the process as compared to the standard criminal justice process.[3] 

On those who have harmed

The evidence base is less consistent when it comes to the impact of RJ on further offending, but still demonstrates positive findings. A comprehensive review of RJ interventions by the Campbell Collaboration concluded that restorative justice conferences[4] cause ‘a modest but highly cost-effective reduction in repeat offending’, and that the impact of conferences was more greatly experienced in crimes of violence than in crimes against property. Similarly, the Smith Institute evidence review concluded that “In general, RJ seems to reduce crime more effectively with more, rather than less, serious crimes”, while also noting that evidence on its effectiveness varies between different programmes and target groups.[5]

How do other countries approach RJ delivery?

In May 2019, the Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services conducted a rapid review of case studies on RJ’s use and delivery in other jurisdictions. The review was published as an occasional paper.

The key findings were:

  • The Council of Europe recommends that Member States “should develop the capacity to deliver restorative justice in all geographical areas in their jurisdictions, with respect to all offences, and at all stages of their criminal justice processes”.[7] 
  • A centralised model is a common feature of comprehensive and effective RJ systems. The type of provider varies, but the benefits of centralised funding and coordination are consistent. 
  • Norway and Belgium have the most comprehensive RJ systems of all the European jurisdictions examined, offering RJ at every stage in the criminal justice system and for any age and offence type. 
  • RJ for young people is more universal in the jurisdictions examined, but adult provision is still widespread.
  • Restorative justice is used for serious or sensitive offences in a number of jurisdictions. This requires more stringent practice guidelines and highly trained facilitators, and there is growing expertise on this to draw on, from countries that have been providing RJ in such cases for many years. 
  • It is common for RJ to be used before sentencing to allow outcomes to feed into sentencing decisions. This can help to increase monitoring and enforcement of agreements reached with the victim. 
  • Referrals can be increased if both victim and offender can request RJ, as is the case in Belgium.

How was this action plan developed?

In addition to the rapid review of case studies, in 2018 the Scottish Government and Community Justice Scotland issued a survey seeking evidence on the current use of RJ across Scotland to local areas.[8] The survey found RJ provision to be inconsistent, with limited opportunities for adults to take part.

Two stakeholder workshops were held in November 2018 to seek views on what action would be required to achieve our vision of having RJ available across Scotland. 

Four key challenges emerged from these exercises.

Training – There is no widely available training provision according to common basic standards for Scotland as a whole. Some training is available through a third sector provider, but there may be further opportunities to expand this and to focus on specialist training for certain individuals and offence types.

Information Sharing – A lack of understanding and expertise in data protection legislation has impacted on the ability of services to share details on persons who commit harm and persons harmed, therefore impacting on the ability to offer RJ services. 

Awareness – While it appears there is little demand for RJ, in reality individuals and communities are not aware of this option or how to access it. Awareness also cannot be raised while there are currently limited providers of RJ.

Resources – There are no specifically identified funding streams for RJ in Scotland. This limits provision in the face of competing pressures.

We have engaged with the Restorative Justice Forum throughout the development of this Action Plan. We will continue this engagement, and look to engage with other stakeholders, particularly organisations representing those harmed, in moving forward with this action plan.

How Will We Take This Forward?

The actions in this plan are the steps we consider necessary to ensure consistent, quality RJ is available across Scotland by 2023. 

They aim to provide national direction and leadership, whilst encouraging, supporting and promoting a partnership approach involving organisations across the Scottish justice sector. 

This will drive the development of a nationally-available model for RJ and the tools required to raise awareness in communities, provide equal access to support and deliver high-quality, specialist training for facilitators. 

We recognise that successful delivery of the plan will require commitment, participation and buy-in from public and third sector organisations – both at a national and local level. 

Under each of the three outcomes in the following tables, the first action is to establish stakeholder groups from across criminal justice, the public sector, local government, third sector, academia and others as appropriate. Each group will report against their progress towards identified deliverables. 

We will also look to canvas views from the public to inform this work.

The Scottish Government, Community Justice Scotland and other partners will consider whether it would be helpful to support particular trials of the use of RJ in Scotland, where this could expand knowledge and improve practice. 



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