Article 21 – Right to access restorative justice services

Article 21 – Right to access restorative justice services

1) Member States shall take measures to establish access to restorative justice services for all victims of a crime, at any stage of the criminal proceedings in co-ordination with the provision of support services.

2) Member States shall take measures to safeguard the victim from secondary and repeat victimisation, from intimidation and from retaliation, to be applied when providing any restorative justice services. Such measures shall ensure that victims who choose to participate in restorative justice processes have access to safe and competent restorative justice services, subject to at least the following conditions:

a) the restorative justice services are used only if they are restorative justice services respect the principles of stakeholder participation; respectful dialogue; equal concern for the needs and interests of the parties; procedural fairness and consensus-based agreement, are in the interest of the victim, subject to any safety considerations, and are based on the victim’s free and informed consent, which may be withdrawn at any time. No person should be induced by unfair means to participate in restorative justice;

b) before agreeing to participate in the restorative justice process, victims are provided with full and unbiased information about that process and the potential outcomes, as well as information about the procedures for supervising the implementation of any agreement and, if relevant, the possible implications for ongoing legal proceedings;

c) the offender has acknowledged the basic facts of the case;

d) any agreement is arrived at voluntarily and may be taken into account in any further criminal proceedings;

e) discussions in the restorative justice processes that are not conducted in public are is confidential and are should not subsequently be disclosed, except with the express agreement of the parties or as required by national law due to an overriding public interest.

f) restorative justice providers operate in a neutral way by ensuring that restorative justice is offered through a balanced distribution of independent, offender and victim led organisations following procedural standards on neutrality applicable to the facilitator and the process.

3) Member States shall facilitate the referral of cases to restorative justice services, including through the establishment of procedures or guidelines on the conditions for such referral.

COMMENTARY – Article 21

The European Commission did not revise this article in its proposal.

In many Member States, restorative justice (RJ) services either do not exist or are inaccessible to many victims; exclusions are commonly based on the type of crime or the characteristics of the offender. Victims often lack information about RJ or are not referred to the service.  Where victims have access to restorative justice services, there are few measures to ensure their well-being and safety during the RJ process. Moreover, the provision of RJ services tends to be mostly offered by offender-focused organisations at the national level which may lead to a bias being introduced to the process.

Our proposal offers a comprehensive solution to these problems. It aims to remove access barriers by addressing victims’ access to information and referral, while eliminating unreasonable exemption criteria. The VSE proposal advocates for the adoption of common standards, values, and accreditation processes for RJ services, and promotes neutrality across the process. VSE proposal also ensures that the development of restorative justice services takes place in a coherent, integrated system of service provision at national level, which does not create competition between victim support services and restorative justice services. Importantly, restorative justice services should not be implemented in place of or prioritised over support services. This is particularly important since, many more victims are likely to need and seek victims support services compared to those wishing to engage with offenders for restorative purposes. Lastly, our proposal aligns the text of the article with the Council of Europe’s landmark Recommendation on restorative justice in criminal matters (CM/Rec(2018)8), which received the overwhelming consensus of EU Member States.