Statistics and Research Branch

Evaluation of the

Northern Ireland

Youth Conference

Service

Catriona Campbell, Roisin Devlin,

David O’Mahony, Jonathan Doak

John Jackson, Tanya Corrigan and

Kieran McEvoy

Evaluation of the

Northern Ireland

Youth Conference

Service

NIO Research and Statistical Series: Report No. 12

by Catriona Campbell, Roisin Devlin, David O’Mahony,

Jonathan Doak, John Jackson, Tanya Corrigan and Kieran McEvoy

Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice,

School of Law,

Queen’s University, Belfast

October 2005

Produced by the Statistics and Research Branch of the Northern Ireland

Office.

For additional copies, please contact:

Statistics and Research Branch

Criminal Justice Policy Division

Massey House

Stoney Road

Belfast BT4 3SX

Telephone: 028 9052 7534

Fax: 028 9052 7532

E-mail: crime.nio@nics.gov.uk

This publication and others on related criminal justice areas are also

available on the Internet at:

www.nio.gov.uk

The views in this report are those of the authors are not to be attributed to

the Northern Ireland Office

First published 2006

Application for reproduction should be made to Statistics and Research

Branch, Massey House, Stoney Road, Belfast, BT4 3SX.

© Crown Copyright 2006 ISBN 1 90 3686 19 9

Executive summary

i

Restorative justice is now very firmly on the criminal justice agenda in many countries, with the rapidly increasing

number of hits when searching the web testifying to the interest worldwide. However, despite the large number of

such schemes in different countries, there is a relative lack of sound and searching evaluation of many of these

schemes (with notable exceptions in New Zealand, Australia and England). This is why I so much welcome the

decision of the Northern Ireland Office to support a full evaluation of the large pilot of youth conferencing in

Northern Ireland, the introduction of which stems from the recommendations of the Criminal Justice Review and the

subsequent Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002. I also applaud the very successful efforts of the team based at

Queen’s University Belfast to carry out that evaluation, the results of which are reported here. It is particularly

important because this is a statutory scheme, its closest equivalent being the long-running youth conferencing in New

Zealand, and these pilot results can inform the future running of conferencing in Northern Ireland, as well as

providing feedback to everyone involved.

Restorative justice, when linked with the criminal justice system, as is the case with youth conferencing, involves a

lot of different parties, amongst them: victims and their families and supporters; offenders and their families and

supporters; the courts and judiciary; conference facilitators; criminal justice system agencies (such as the police) who

are involved with the conferences themselves; people running programmes and supervising offenders undertaking

those conference agreements made sentences of the court; local communities and victim support agencies. It has the

potential to bring these parties together to address the consequences of offending and find imaginative possibilities to

help in the future. If badly managed, it also has the potential to disturb and upset people. It is clear from the results

reported here that, as implemented in the pilot, youth conferencing has a positive potential and that many of those

involved have been very positive about it. There remain some issues, particularly about the interaction between

restorative justice and criminal justice – but that is the point of evaluations: to draw out such issues so that they can

be addressed.

Because conferencing does involve so many parties and is a complex process, the evaluation itself is a difficult task.

I know, from directing the ongoing evaluation of three restorative justice schemes within criminal justice involving

both adult and young offenders in England, funded by the Home Office, that it requires serious hard work and many

hours to make sure that data on the cases involved are consistently gathered, conferences are observed, victims and

offenders are able to give their views, criminal justice implications are considered and the views of criminal justice

personnel sought. So I know how much effort has gone into the research reported here. The evaluation of youth

conferencing in Northern Ireland is, in my view, a major achievement and a very good piece of work. It will be

extremely useful, not only within Northern Ireland and for both practitioners and policy makers, but in many other

countries as well.

Professor Joanna Shapland

University of Sheffield

Foreword

ii

This report is based on a major research evaluation into youth conferencing in Northern Ireland. Many people helped

in the process of conducting the research. We are especially grateful to all of the participants – victims, offenders,

parents and supporters, conference coordinators, police officers and other professionals - at the conferences we

attended. They gave us their views and opinions in a frank and genuine manner and much of the report is about what

they told us.

The research was facilitated by the good will of many in the criminal justice system. We are especially thankful to

Mrs Valerie Brennan in the Courts Service for arranging access to the necessary courts and files. We were aided by a

steering group which provided advice and direction throughout the research and in particular we would like to thank

Jane Woods, Tony Kavanagh, Laura Hague, Tony O’Brien and Mathieu Decodts from the Northern Ireland Office;

Alice Chapman and Yvonne Adair from the Youth Conferencing Service; Mandy Kilpatrick and Orla Bateson from the

Courts Service; and Ken Preston from the Public Prosecution Service. Ken Preston also kindly helped access to prosecution

materials and criminal record information.

A number of stakeholders gave us their insights and we are grateful to the representatives from the Police, Youth

Conferencing Service, Community Restorative Groups, Public Prosecution Service, Northern Ireland Office, Probation

Board and Youth Court Magistrates. We were also helped by the kind comments and suggestions form Dr Kevin

Haines from the University of Wales, Professor Joanna Shapland from the University of Sheffield and Professor Kieran

McEvoy from Queen’s University Belfast.

The research was conducted by a team including Helen Beckett who worked on the project in the earlier stages, as

well as Andrea Burke. Catriona Campbell took on much of management of the research and she worked tirelessly

with Roisin Devlin and Tanya Corrigan, thank you all.

Lastly we would like to thank the Northern Ireland Office for funding the research. We hope it will help in the rollout

of youth conferencing across Northern Ireland and more generally for those seeking to improve the delivery of

restorative justice.

David O’Mahony

Queen’s University, Belfast

Acknowledgements

Executive summary

Youth conferencing

The Northern Ireland youth conferencing service was launched in the Greater Belfast area in December 2003, and

was subsequently expanded to Fermanagh and Tyrone in April 2004. Introduced as part of the Justice (Northern

Ireland) Act 2002, this innovative response to young offending is based on the recommendation in the Criminal

Justice Review that: “restorative justice should be integrated into the juvenile justice system and its philosophy in

Northern Ireland, using a conference model […] based in statute, available for all juveniles […] subject to the full

range of human rights safeguards” (Criminal Justice Review Group, 2000: 205). In contrast with more traditional

models of justice, youth conferencing seeks not only to encourage young people to recognise the effects of their

crime and take responsibility for their actions, but also to devolve power by actively engaging victim, offender and

community in the restorative process.

The evaluation

This report seeks to examine the translation of the youth conferencing service into practice, identifying both strengths

and weaknesses of the current system and determining to what extent it is proving effective in meeting its stated

objectives and anticipated outcomes. In order to do so, the report presents a holistic overview of the process,

examining all key stages from the initial conference referral through to the return of conference plans.

Following a review of the relevant literature, the primary research methods employed within the evaluation were

those of observation, structured and semi-structured interviews. Observations took place with respect to both youth

conferences and relevant court proceedings. In total, 185 conferences were observed. Structured interviews were

completed with victim and offender conference participants, while semi-structured interviews were employed with

both victim and offender non-participants and other key stakeholders such as Magistrates, police and representatives

of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

The referral process

The research examined referrals to the Youth Conference Service from the court and Public Prosecution Service.

Researchers observed proceedings in the youth court in both Belfast and Fermanagh and Tyrone regions. This

permitted an evaluation of the issues surrounding court referrals and the extent to which legislative requirements were

met.

362 referrals were received by the Youth Conference Service within the period of research. 31%

emanated from the PPS and 69% from court.

A range of offences were referred. The majority or 53% related to intermediate offences against

person or property. Serious offences accounted for 23%, minor matters for 21% and very serious

offences for 3% of referrals.

The majority or 89% of young people referred for a diversionary conference had no previous

offences for which they were sentenced. The remainder had one (7%) or two (5%) previous

sentences. 44% of those referred by court had no previous sentences, 20% had one and 15% had

two. The remainder had three (10%) and four or more (11%) previous offences for which they

were sentenced.

There was a high rate of acceptance by young people of diversionary referrals with 68% of PPS

referrals accepted over the Greater Belfast and Fermanagh and Tyrone regions.

Similarly, the majority of young people offered a conference at the youth courts (56%) accepted

and were referred to the Youth Conference Service.

On the whole, Magistrates offered referral to a conference in those cases deemed suitable by the

legislation.

The formality and established practice of the youth court suggested that, by the end of the research,

some concerns remained about the manner in which courts requested consent to attend a

conference.

Executive summary

iii

Preliminary stages of the conference

The initial stages of the conference were considered including the convening of a conference, including practicalities

and location, the pre-conference preparation process and participant composition. The research also examined the

position of those victims and young people who declined to participate in a conference.

The majority of referrals (75%) received by the Youth Conference Service successfully resulted in a

conference. On average, diversionary and court-ordered conferences were completed within the

required timescales.

Most young people referred to a conference were male (86%) and aged 14-16 (77%). A significant

proportion of young people referred to a conference were in the care system (29%), the majority of

whom were referred by the court (88%).

When compared to similar schemes internationally, victim participation in conferences was high at

69%. Of these, 47% were victim representatives, 40% personal victims and 13% were

representatives attending where there was no identifiable victim. Most victims did not attend a

conference with a supporter.

Both victims and young people rated their preparation prior to the conference highly. Most felt well

informed about the process and knew what to expect at a conference.

Young people attended conferences to ‘make up for what I had done’ (85%), to be forgiven by the

victim (79%) and to both help the victim (70%) and hear what they had to say (70%).

For victims, the notion of punishment was secondary to meeting the young person and receiving an

explanation for their actions. A significant number of victims (79%) attended because they wanted

to help the young person.

Findings indicate that not all victims wish to come face to face with the young person at a youth

conference. A small sample of non-participating victims were interviewed and of these, the

majority indicated personal reasons for non-attendance.

The conference

The evaluation of the conference process measured participant involvement and satisfaction at various stages of the

proceedings. This included the extent to which co-ordinators introduced participants and explained the process and the

involvement of participants when discussing the impact of the crime. Observations also recorded the presence or

absence of an apology, shame and remorse and how the expression of this was received by the victim if present and

other participants. Researchers then considered the involvement of participants in devising and agreeing the conference

plan.

Most victims appeared calm and relaxed at the start of the conference, and did not report feeling

nervous. By contrast, 71% of young people displayed some degree of nervousness and avoidance

or discomfort.

Overall, co-ordinators were observed to introduce participants and the process very well. On some

occasions, however, the confidential and voluntary nature of the process was not explained in

adequate detail.

Young people generally engaged well when discussing the offence, and were given the opportunity

to explain it from their perspective (93%). Almost all young people (98%) felt that they were

listened to when they did so.

The vast majority (97%) of young people accepted responsibility for their actions either ‘a lot (61%)

or ‘a bit’ (36%).

Victims were generally very engaged in the conference process. All victims felt that conference

gave them the opportunity to explain to the young person how the crime affected them.

Both victim and young people’s supporters were generally observed to feed positively into the

restorative atmosphere of the conference. The vast majority of young people (93%) and all victims

said that they found their presence ‘helpful’.

The majority of conferences considered contributory factors when discussing the crime. The most

common were substance misuse, peer pressure and family difficulties.

In the majority (87%) of conferences the young person apologised or agreed to apologise. The

majority of conferences without an apology involved a victim representative and not a personal

victim. Young people were observed to display some level of shame (77%) and remorse (92%) in

most conferences.

Executive summary

iv

Both young people and victims were involved in devising the conference plan. In total, 89% of

young people and 96% of victims were either ‘a lot’ or ‘a bit’ engaged when deciding the plan.

During the period of the research, 95% of conferences reached agreement on a plan. The majority

of young people (74%) and victims (87%) were ‘happy to agree’ to the plan.

Both young people (93%) and victims (79%) believed the plan to be either ‘very fair’ or ‘fair’

Similarly, 71% of young people and 79% of victims were ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with the plan.

In terms of proportionality, young people (72%) and victims (69%) believed the plan to be ‘neither

too hard nor too soft’.

Overall evaluation of conferences

The overall levels of participation within conferences and the facilitation provided by co-ordinators were measured.

The research considered overall input when discussing the crime and agreeing the conference plan, participant’s

evaluation of their conference experience and observations in relation to the skills of conference co-ordinators.

In the majority of conferences, participants were involved when discussing the crime. 62% of

young people and 80% of victims were involved ‘a lot’ at this point.

The majority of young people, (91%), and victims, (81%), preferred the conference over court.

81% of young people and 48% of victims felt better following the conference. Of the 52% of

remaining victims, the majority felt no different.

92% of young people and 78% of victims believed the conference had helped the young person

realise the harm caused by the offence.

The vast majority of young people, (86%) and victims, (88%), would recommend a conference to a

person in a similar situation.

Of the family members who provided their views on the conference process, the majority

welcomed the opportunity to attend and believed the conference to have a positive impact on the

young person.

In 77% of conferences the co-ordinator was either ‘very good’ or ‘good’ at involving others and in

84% of cases, ‘very good’ or ‘good’ at progressing the conference toward agreement. Overall, coordinators

displayed particular skill in their ability to be inclusive and to treat everyone in a

respectful manner.

The return of conference plans and orders

Having examined both the referral and convening of youth conferences, the return of conference plans to the court or

the Public Prosecution Service was then evaluated. The numbers of plans returned, and their varying outcomes, were

examined as was the legislation governing the process and key issues arising with respect to it.

Two-thirds of plans (67%) returned to the court or PPS were passed in their original form.

All conference plans (100%) returned to the Public Prosecution service were passed, whilst just

under two thirds of plans were accepted by the court (63%).

Difference in decision making between Magistrates was evident between the Fermanagh and

Tyrone and Greater Belfast regions, with plans much more likely to be passed in Fermanagh and

Tyrone.

When making youth conference orders, observations found that legislative requirements are

generally being met within the courts.

In most cases, reasons given by the court for the rejection of plans related to the nature of the

offence. Whilst on some occasions the offence was believed to be too serious for the imposition of

an Order, in others the offence was deemed not serious enough.

Of those referred to a youth conference by the court, but did not receive a youth conference order,

the most common alternative disposals were a conditional discharge or a period of custody.

Just under half (47%) of plans passed were completed within the period of the research. On

average, plans were completed within 67 working days, well within the year afforded by the

legislation.

Only a small minority (6%) of plans were subsequently revoked due to non-compliance.

Executive summary

v

Executive summary

vi

Recommendations

The results presented within this report show that overall the implementation of youth conferencing in Northern

Ireland progressed well. In addition, it is anticipated that the practice of youth conferencing and the knowledge of the

service by others, will improve with experience and time. Nevertheless, there are certain matters that may be useful

to consider in the further development of the youth conferencing service. The following are recommendations for

future practice and research:

The referral process

1) Prosecution referrals: 31% of referrals for Youth Conferences emanated from the Public Prosecution Service

and 69% from the youth court. The majority or 53% related to intermediate offences against person or property.

Serious offences accounted for 23%, minor matters for 21% and very serious offences for 3% of referrals.

The majority of ‘minor property related and other minor offences’ were referred to the Youth Conference Service by

the court (71.4%) and not the Public Prosecution Service (28.6%) as might be expected. This suggests that the PPS is

referring a substantial number of intermediate and some minor offences to the court. This conclusion is reinforced by

the fact that courts made a conditional discharge in 15.9% of cases rather than accept the Youth Conference plan.

The courts’ resources might be best reserved for the most serious and complex cases, those raising issues of public

interest and protection. In light of the very promising results reported in this evaluation particularly in the area of

victim satisfaction it is recommended that the PPS increase the proportion of referrals for diversionary conference

primarily on the basis of seriousness of the offence, though previous convictions should also remain a consideration.

2) Upper age limit: Where a young person becomes an adult in the course of youth court proceedings, article 30

of the Criminal Justice (Children) (NI) Order 1998 permits the youth court to make any order which it would have

made had they not reached that age. In a number of court observations, a youth conference plan was rejected

because the young person had reached 17 years of age before the plan returned to court. Although this was not the

intention of the legislation, it is permissible, and consequently it may be useful to explain to the young person, at the

stage of initial referral, that refusal due to age is a possible result. In this way, the young person can make a more

informed choice about whether or not to attend the conference (3.5 Court-Ordered Referrals).

3) Mandatory penalties: At present, the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 prohibits a youth conference order in

combination with a further court order1. As a result, the court was unable to accept a youth conference plan in a

number of motoring cases because the offence attracted a mandatory penalty. Furthermore, figures showing a high

proportion of motoring offences amongst 17 year olds, means that the introduction of this age group to the youth

court will have a significant impact in this regard. Attendance at a conference by the young person should not

necessarily be prohibited, as exposure to the potential consequences of road traffic offences to victims may influence

future behaviour. It is recommended that a legislative amendment be considered that would permit a youth

conference order in combination with a mandatory penalty in appropriate cases and provided the young person

consents. In either scenario, it is crucial that the young person is provided with the necessary details to enable an

informed choice as to whether or not to attend the conference (3.5 Court-Ordered Referrals; 7.5 Return of Court-

Ordered Plans: Court-Ordered Conference Plans).

4) Court-ordered conferences and consent: the established practice and formality of the youth court meant that

there were varying levels of input from Magistrates when requesting consent to attend a conference. Although staff

from the Youth Conference Service attend court and meet with the young person after each referral is made, it would

seem more suitable for the court, either through the Magistrate or a legal representative, to ensure that in each case

the young person has a full understanding of the process before accepting consent (3.5 Court-Ordered Referrals). It is

recommended that this could be facilitated by young people, their parents or carers and their legal representatives

being fully informed about the youth conference process in a standardised way by representatives of the Youth

Conference Service outside the court room prior to being asked if they give their consent to participating in a

conference.

5) Referrals from care system: A significant proportion of young people referred to a conference were in the care

system, the majority of who were referred by the court. It is recommended that unless serious offences have been

committed, steps should be taken to avoid court prosecutions of looked after young people.

1 Section 60, 36J (9) of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002.

Executive summary

vii

Preliminary stages of the conference process

6) Time from the offence to the conference: in all cases involving children and young people, it is important to

avoid unnecessary delay. However, distance in time can also impact on the conference process by affecting the level

of recall by the young person and / or the victim about the actual offence. The average length of time from the

offence to the day of the conference was 120 working days. In interview, some victims expressed a concern at the

lapse in time since the original offence. Although it is difficult to make a specific recommendation in this respect, it

may be useful to bear in mind and to monitor the impact of this particular time distance in the further development

of the youth conferencing service (4.3 The Convening of Conferences; 6.4 Overall Evaluation of Conferences: Best

and Worst Aspects of the Conference Experience).

7) Conference length: the majority of conferences permitted a sufficient amount of time to deal with the relevant

issues and to engage all participants. However, the average conference lasted for one hour and a number of

conferences lasted for more than 90 minutes. A number of participants felt that this was too long. In observations,

young people also appeared restless toward the end of proceedings and when agreeing the plan. Therefore, it is

recommended to make more provision for a break or time out during the conference proceedings (4.3 The Convening

of Conferences; 5.5 Discussing the Crime: Young Person: Engagement; 5.10 The Actual Plan: Proportionality; 6.4

Overall Evaluation of Conferences: Best and worst Aspects of the Conference Experience).

8) Conference venues: the majority of conferences took place in the purpose built Youth Conference headquarters

in Belfast. Occasionally, community venues were used where this proved more convenient for participants. However,

one young person supporter was concerned that the location was too local and an issue of privacy did arise. While

achieving accessibility, it is recommended that it may be helpful to confirm with all participants that they are

comfortable with the location of a community venue (4.3 The Convening of Conferences).

9) Observation room: in a few cases, the one-way observation room appeared to cause problems due to the

presence of a mirror. To avoid this occurring, it is recommended to install a curtain or blind, which could be drawn

over the mirror when the observation room is not in use (4.3 The Convening of Conferences).

10) Information on persons attending the conference: in most cases, young people and victims were well

informed about the conference before attending. However, a very small number of victims felt they were not

informed about who would attend and one victim felt particularly uncomfortable due to the presence of a person

whom they did not know was attending. It is therefore recommended that participants are informed and provided

with up to date information on the persons who are or even might be present at the conference (4.5 Preparation for

the Conference: Victim).

11) Informational material: the majority of victims and young people were satisfied with information provided to

prepare them for the conference. It is recommended that victim representatives have access to preparation materials,

which include a business or community perspective and contain guidance on why victim representatives might attend

(4.5 Preparation for the Conference: Informational Material; 4.6 Non-Participation: Victims).

12) Victim non-participation: Although the sample was small, the views from victims who chose not to participate

in the conference process suggest two points to ensure good practice in these cases. It is recommended firstly, where

the victim requests it, information should be provided to them on the progress of the case. Secondly, where the

victim makes an alternative contribution such as a letter or a statement, it is important to offer information on how

this input was received at the conference. Every effort should be made to facilitate alternatives when appropriate (4.6

Non-Participation: Victims; 4.7 Conclusion).

13) Delays: Where the conference was delayed, most victims (83%) and young people (80%) were kept informed,

however 17% of victims and 20% of young people were not told why there was a delay. It is recommended that

when delays occur, all parties are kept well informed of the causes and likely starting time.

14) Legal representation: When asked if they were informed of their right to legal advice, the majority (76%) of

young people stated that they were. However 21% indicated that they were not and 4% could not remember. It is

recommended that the Youth Conference Service ensure that all young people are informed of their right to legal

advice.

Executive summary

viii

The conference

15) Explaining the conference process: At the opening stages of the conference, it is important for the coordinator

to establish the purpose and practicalities of the process. Results showed that in the majority of cases this

was done well. Furthermore, the use of a flip chart acted as a useful tool to assist in explaining this process. It is

recommended for continued training to ensure that visual aids are used appropriately and that they do not encourage

the development of an overly standardised or prescribed format to conference proceedings (5.4 Opening Stages of

the Conference: The Co-ordinator).

16) Confidentiality and voluntariness: continued training is required to build upon the positive aspects of the

conference, in particular, to ensure a clear explanation at the start of the conference of the voluntariness of

participation and the confidentiality of conference proceedings. When explaining the concept of confidentiality, it is

important to state the circumstances in which information revealed within the conference might be disclosed to third

parties, for instance, concerns regarding child protection or information regarding further offences (5.4 Opening

Stages of the Conference: The Co-ordinator).

17) The facts of the offence: a statement of facts regarding the offence is provided in each conference by the

police officer. In a number of cases the young person disagreed with the facts as read. However, participants should

be helped to understand that there can be a difference between disputing the facts, a process and dialogue which the

conference process might legitimately facilitate, and disputing the legal elements which make up the offence, a more

serious matter suggesting that the young person has not accepted responsibility for the offence (5.5 Discussing the

Crime: Statement of Facts).

18) Involvement when devising the plan: observations showed a minority of only 57 conferences where one or

more participants should have had more say when devising the conference plan. However, in two thirds of these

cases or 37 conferences this was identified as the young person. In some instances therefore it is recommended to

facilitate the young person to have a more substantial part in determining the actual plan (5.9 Devising Conference

Plans: Involvement).

19) Professional input when devising the plan: observations showed only 24 conferences where it appeared that

one or more participants should have had less say when devising the plan. In a very small number of these cases the

police officer or co-ordinator was observed to address the young person in a scolding tone. It is recommended that

this practice issue could be addressed through ongoing development and training (5.9 Devising Conference Plans:

Involvement).

20) Agreeing the conference plan: conference participants should be aware that the court might assess a

conference plan according to how far it is proportionate to the offence. However, in a number of observations, there

appeared to be a level of undue pressure due to a knowledge that the court would require significant content before

it would approve the plan. Further training is recommended for co-ordinators to assist in ensuring that external

demands do not overly influence participants when devising the plan. Indeed, the value of the process may be

undermined if it appears that the court is directing the plan. (5.10 The Actual Plan: Agreement).

21) Plan content: though there were features common to many plans, such as an apology to the victim and / or

an activity to address the causes of offending, each outcome varied in substance and length. Results showed that

certain programmes or schemes were used regularly within plans whilst others appeared more peripheral. As such,

mentoring and offence focused schemes appeared common whereas anger management, education or training

featured for a minority of all plans. It is recommended to evaluate further the level of diversity within plans, given that

schemes such as ‘mentoring’ and ‘offence focused work’ can involve young people in a wide range of opportunities,

including the establishment of links to education and / or training (5.10 The Actual Plan: Plan Content).

22) Regional variation within conference plans: it is important to examine the development and content of plans

to ensure against a substantial difference in plans by region. This is particularly important in relation to the inclusion

of restrictions, with results showing 55% of plans from Fermanagh and Tyrone compared to only 20% of plans from

the Greater Belfast region including one or more restriction. As such, it recommended to monitor regional

inconsistencies to ensure against any perception or practice of ‘justice by geography’ in relation to the content of

conference plans (5.10 The Actual Plan: Plan Content).

Overall evaluation of conferences

23) Co-ordinator skills: results showed that in the vast majority of conferences, co-ordinators displayed particular

skills in their ability to be inclusive and to treat every participant in a fair and respectful manner. It is recommended

that training continue to build upon and reinforce this positive aspect of the conference process (6.5 Overall

Evaluation of Co-ordinator’s Role).

The making of conference plans and orders

24) Return of court-ordered plans: the results showed a geographical inconsistency in relation to the acceptance

and refusal of court-ordered conference plans. While all conference plans resulted in a youth conference order

following referral from the youth courts in Fermanagh and Tyrone, over half of all referrals made by Belfast youth

court did not result in an order. This presents a considerable variation in outcome by region and is perhaps an issue

for further monitoring. The practical result is that court-ordered conferences in Belfast are far less likely to result in

acceptance of the youth conference plan, (7.5 Return of Court-Ordered Plans: Court-Ordered Conference Plans).

25) Issuing a conditional discharge in place of a youth conference plan: the most frequent order made by the

court following refusal of a youth conference plan was a conditional discharge. The Justice (Northern Ireland) Act

2002 provides that the court should not offer referral to a youth conference where it is minded to impose an absolute

or conditional discharge2. It seems that this is a legislative safeguard to ensure that less serious cases do not proceed

by way of youth conference. It is recommended that if the court anticipates a conditional discharge, it would seem

more within the spirit of the legislation not to offer referral to a youth conference. If following this practice, there

might be a reduction in the number of plans refused on the grounds that the offence is not serious enough to warrant

a youth conference order (7.5 Return of Court-Ordered Plans: Court-Ordered Conference Plans).

26) Amending court-ordered plans: given the high rate of rejection of youth conference plans at the Belfast youth

court, it might be helpful to provide further training on the possibilities for amending a youth conference plan. This

can facilitate the identification of suitable cases where it might be more positive to amend rather than to refuse the

youth conference plan (7.5 Return of Court-Ordered Plans: Amendment of Youth Conference Plans).

27) The value of youth conference plans: it appeared from court observations that the value of a youth conference

outcome was at times assessed according to the quantity or level of content within the plan. Therefore, a conference

plan might be rejected on the grounds that ‘two points’ are insufficient to address a ‘serious’ offence. However, the

worth of any conference plan is a complex measurement and may rest in the nature of the agreement rather than the

number of elements appearing within the plan. As such, it may be useful to develop further training and educational

materials in this regard (7.5 Return of Court-Ordered Plans: Amendment of Youth Conference Plans).

Further research

In order to appreciate the impact of youth conferencing on participants and relevant stakeholders and to assess how it

is received by the youth justice system in Northern Ireland, it is crucial that its development is carefully monitored.

Although it is not possible at this early stage of implementation to be aware of all aspects of the service that might

benefit from research, there are certain areas that would be important for further examination:

28) Post conference perspectives: further research can assist in the development of the youth conferencing service

by exploring the perspectives of young people, victims, families and other participants in the period following the

actual conference proceedings. For instance, it may be important to learn about the perceptions of and impact upon

participants following acceptance or refusal of the youth conference outcome and issues arising from fulfilment or

breach of the final conference plan (7.5 Return of Court-Ordered Plans: Amendment of Youth Conference Plans).

29) Completion and revocation: the results showed a high rate of completion of youth conference plans and

orders. However, given that youth conferencing is in an early stage of implementation, this research was unable to

investigate this aspect of the service in detail. It would be useful to explore further the completion of youth

conference outcomes and the consequences of breach. Indeed, where youth conference orders are revoked, it will be

important to monitor and establish any trends in relation to final sentencing outcomes (7.7 Completion and

Revocation of Youth Conference Plans and Orders).

30) Recidivism: although recidivism should not constitute the sole indicator when evaluating youth conferencing

schemes, it would be of value for additional and longitudinal research to assess the level of reoffending following

engagement by young people with the youth conferencing service and assess what elements of the process appear to

have the most beneficial results (10.4 Conclusion).

Executive summary

ix

2 Section 59, 33 C (5) Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002.

x

Page

FOREWORD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .i

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .ii

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .iii

INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Chapter 1 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE AND RESEARCH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

1.1 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5

1.2 Restorative justice in theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5

1.3 Restorative justice in practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8

1.4 Critical issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17

1.5 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26

Chapter 2 METHODOLOGY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27

2.1 Aim of the research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29

2.2 Data collection techniques . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29

2.3 Comparative analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31

2.4 Data analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31

Chapter 3 THE REFERRAL PROCESS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33

3.1 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35

3.2 Summary of findings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35

3.3 Referal to the Youth Conferencing Service . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35

3.4 Diversionary referrals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .37

3.5 Court-ordered referrals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38

3.6 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .41

Chapter 4 PRELIMINARY STAGES OF THE CONFERENCE PROCESS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .43

4.1 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .45

4.2 Summary of findings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .45

4.3 The convening of conferences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .45

4.4 Conference participants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .47

4.5 Preparation for the conference . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .49

4.6 Non-participation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .53

4.7 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .55

Chapter 5 THE CONFERENCE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .57

5.1 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .59

5.2 Summary of findings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .59

5.3 The structure of conferences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .60

5.4 Opening stages of the conference . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .60

5.5 Discussing the crime . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .63

5.6 Conferences without victims . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .68

5.7 Contributory factors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .73

5.8 Apology and remorse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .75

5.9 Devising conference plans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .78

5.10 The actual plan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .82

5.11 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .91

Contents

xi

Page

Chapter 6 OVERALL EVALUATION OF CONFERENCES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .93

6.1 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .95

6.2 Summary of findings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .95

6.3 Overall participation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .95

6.4 Overall evaluation of conferences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .97

6.5 Overall evaluation of the co-ordinator’s role . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .104

6.6 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .106

Chapter 7 THE MAKING OF CONFERENCE PLANS AND ORDERS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .107

7.1 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .109

7.2 Summary of findings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .109

7.3 Over view of plans returned . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .109

7.4 Return of diversionary plans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .110

7.5 Return of court-ordered plans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .110

7.6 Final court disposals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .115

7.7 Completion and revocation of youth conference plans

and orders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .116

7.8 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .116

Chapter 8 INTERVIEWS WITH STAKEHOLDERS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .117

8.1 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .119

8.2 Interviews with police officers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .119

8.3 Interviews with youth conference co-ordinators . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .122

8.4 Interviews with Public Prosecution Service (PPS) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .127

8.5 Interview with Northern Ireland Office, Youth Justice Policy

representative . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .130

8.6 Interviews with probation manager . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .131

8.7 Interviews with youth conferencing service manager . . . . . . . . . . . . . .133

8.8 Interviews with magistrates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .135

8.9 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .136

Chapter 9 CONCLUSION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .139

9.1 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .141

9.2 Victims . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .141

9.3 Young people . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .143

9.4 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .144

RECOMMENDATIONS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .145

REFERENCES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .153

APPENDICES Appendix 1 Young person interview schedule . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .163

Appendix 2 Young person abridged interview schedule . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .173

Appendix 3 Victim interview schedule . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .178

Appendix 4 Non-participating young person interview schedule . . . . . . . . . .188

Appendix 5 Non-participating victim interview schedule . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .190

Appendix 6 Offence research scale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .192

Contents

xii

Page

CHAPTER 3

Table 3.1 Referral to a youth conference by region and referral source . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36

Table 3.2 Number of previous sentences for young people by source of referral . . . . . . . .37

Table 3.3 Acceptance of diversionary referrals by region . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38

CHAPTER 4

Table 4.1 Age and gender of young people referred to a conference . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .41

Table 4.2 Victim attendees by victim type . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .48

Table 4.3 Young person: What were your reasons for attending the conference? . . . . . . . .52

Table 4.4 Victim: What were your reasons for attending the conference? . . . . . . . . . . . . .53

CHAPTER 5

Table 5.1 Effects referred to by victims at a conference . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .68

Table 5.2 Alternative forms of victim participation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .68

Table 5.3 Did the young person agree to apologise to the victim? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .76

Table 5.4 Victim: If there was an apology from the young person, were

You happy with it? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .77

Table 5.5 Young person and victim: Would you have liked more say in

devising the plan? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .78

Table 5.6 How engaged was the young person in deciding the plan? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .80

Table 5.7 How engaged was the victim in deciding the plan? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .81

Table 5.8 How satisfied was the young person / victim with the process of

determining the plan? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .82

Table 5.9 How much consensus was there amongst participants about

the plan agreed? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .82

Table 5.10 Young person / victim: Were you happy to agree or did you

feel you had to? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .83

Table 5.11 Was there any reluctance to the plan from young person / victim? . . . . . . . . . .83

Table 5.12 Type of scheme / programme in conference plan as a percentage

of all schemes recorded . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .86

Table 5.13 Young person / victim: Do you think the plan is fair to you? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .88

Table 5.14 Young person / victim: Overall, how satisfied were you with

the outcome of the conference? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .88

Table 5.15 Young person / victim: Do you think the plan is too hard or

too soft given the crime? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .89

Table 5.16 Young person / victim: Do you think the young person will

be able to complete the plan? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .90

Table 5.17 How well did the co-ordinator explain the plan to participants? . . . . . . . . . . . .91

Tables

Tables & figures

xiii

Page

CHAPTER 6

Table 6.1 How involved were participants in discussing the crime? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .95

Table 6.2 How involved were participants in making suggestions

for the plan? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .96

Table 6.3 How involved were participants in deciding the plan? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .97

Table 6.4 Young person / victim: Would you rather the case had

gone to court? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .98

Table 6.5 Young person: If you prefer the conference to court, why? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .98

Table 6.6 Young person / victim: Having finished the conference,

do you feel better or worse? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .99

Table 6.7 Young person: Did the conference make you realise the

harm you caused? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .100

Table 6.8 Having done the conference, would you advise another

person to attend one? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .101

Table 6.9 Co-ordinator’s overall skills of facilitating participant

Involvement and progressing the conference towards

agreement. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .104

CHAPTER 5

Table 7.1 Decisions by PPS and court on returning plans

(By Referral Source) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .110

Table 7.2 Return of court-ordered conference plans (by region) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .111

Table 7.3 Return of court-ordered conference plans by region

and offence seriousness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .112

Table 7.4 Final disposal of all those referred to a court-ordered

youth conference . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .115

FIGURES

Figure 3.1 Referral to a youth conference by referral source . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35

Figure 3.2 Referral to a youth conference by offence category . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36

Figure 4.1 Referrals proceeding to a conference or returned

to referral source . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .45

Figure 5.1 Plan elements as a percentage of all plans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .86

Figure 7.1 Decisions by PPS and court on returning plans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .109

Case studies

xiv

Page

List of Case Studies

Case Study A Start of the conference . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .62

Case Study B Disputed facts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .63

Case Study C Disputed facts (conference terminated) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .63

Case Study D The sympathetic victim . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .67

Case Study E No victim present . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .69

Case Study F Victim supporter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .72

Case Study G Contributory factors (alcohol, family difficulties and anger) . . . . . . . . . . . . .73

Case Study H Spontaneity and sincerity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .75

Case Study I Uncertain victims . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .77

Case Study J Reluctance from the young person . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .80

Case Study K Devising the plan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .83

Case Study L Voluntariness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .84

Case Study M Facilitating agreement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .105

Case Study N Making a youth conference order . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .111

Case Study O Seriousness of the offence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .113

Case Study P Amended plan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .114

Case Study Q Amended plan (2) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .114

Introduction

A mainstreamed restorative approach to youth offending has recently emerged as part of a package of wider criminal

justice reforms in Northern Ireland. Following the Agreement, which was signed on Good Friday of 1998 in Belfast, a

holistic evaluation of the criminal justice system was undertaken with the objective of making the system more

accountable and responsive to the community as a whole (Criminal Justice Review Group, 1998). Amongst other

themes, it examined rights issues, prosecution, the courts and judiciary, community safety, sentences and probation,

victims and witnesses, youth justice and restorative justice. After an initial consultation period and the publication of

an implementation plan, many of the recommended changes were passed into law in the form of the Justice

(Northern Ireland) Act 2002. One of the most significant reforms to emerge was that “restorative justice should be

integrated into the juvenile justice system and its philosophy in Northern Ireland, using a conference model […]

based in statute, available for all juveniles […] subject to the full range of human rights safeguards” (Criminal Justice

Review Group, 2000: 205).

The Northern Ireland ‘youth conferencing’ model of restorative justice has much in common with the New Zealand

family group conferencing system, although it places greater emphasis on the victim than the family. The New

Zealand model has served as a benchmark for many restorative justice schemes worldwide and in a report

commissioned as part of the Criminal Justice Review (Dignan and Lowey, 2000), was highlighted as a potential

restorative model for Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, it is apparent that differing local contexts can make the

transposition of models of justice into discrete environments problematic. In Northern Ireland, there exists a

background of 30 years of inter-community conflict which has created an institutional legitimacy deficit. This is

characterised by mistrust and hostility towards the police in some areas and has resulted in the growth of a crime

prevention vacuum and the emergence of informal community justice measures (Dignan and Lowey, 2000).

Implementing a model of restorative justice without examining contextual factors could perhaps be viewed as

misguided, particularly as much of the success of the New Zealand model has been attributed to its contextual and

cultural sensitivity to New Zealand’s Maori population. In Northern Ireland, the new youth conferencing service has

emerged within a growing climate of restorative justice, reflected in the burgeoning number of community-based

restorative schemes which emerged in the late 1990s (McEvoy and Mika, 2002). It was however determined that for

reasons of accountability, certainty and legitimacy the model of restorative justice implemented should be based in

statute and fully integrated into the formal justice system.

The Northern Ireland Youth Conferencing Service

The Northern Ireland youth conferencing service has statutory footing in Part 4 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act

2002. In addition, The Youth Conference Rules (Northern Ireland) 2003 establish the procedures to be followed when

convening and facilitating a conference. The newly created Youth Conference Service of Northern Ireland has the

distinct role of managing the implementation of youth conferencing in Northern Ireland. The Youth Conference

Service is part of the wider Youth Justice Agency established by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO). Among the staff

employed by the Youth Conference Service are Youth Conference Co-ordinators who are responsible for the

preparation and facilitation of actual conference processes. The Youth Conference Co-ordinators also have postconference

responsibilities including preparation of conference reports for the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) or

youth court and to act as a support for the young person in completing the final conference plan. Also within the

Youth Conference Service are ‘Case Managers’ whose role is to facilitate the day-to-day running of the youth

conference service, including the receipt of referrals and the return of conference outcomes to the Public Prosecution

Service or to the youth court.

The youth conferencing service was introduced in December 2003 and was initially available for all 10-16 year olds

living in the Greater Belfast area who admit to, or are found guilty of, offences committed after 1st December 20033.

In April 2004 the service was expanded to cover young people living in the Fermanagh and Tyrone regions. Section

63 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 provides for the extension of the current youth justice system to 17 year

olds. When this provision comes into force this age group will also be eligible for referral to youth conferencing.

Introduction

3 The Magistrate is required to refer a young person to youth conferencing except in the cases of offences with a penalty of life imprisonment, offences which are triable,

in the case of an adult, on indictment only and scheduled offences which fall under the Terrorism Act 2000.

1

2

As in New Zealand, two types of conferences are provided for in the legislation: diversionary conferences and courtordered

conferences. Both types of conference take place with a view to a youth conference co-ordinator providing

a recommendation to the Prosecutor or court on how the young person should be dealt with for their offence. Two

preconditions must be met for a diversionary conference to occur: firstly, the young person must admit that they have

committed the offence and secondly, they must consent to the process. Similarly, the admission or establishment of

guilt and the consent of the young person are prerequisites for a court-ordered conference to take place.

Typically, a youth conference will involve a meeting in which a young person is provided with the opportunity to

reflect upon their actions and offer some form of reparation to the victim. The victim, who is offered the choice

whether or not to attend, can explain to the young person how the offence has affected him or her as an individual.

In theory, this means that a conference gives the young person the chance to understand their crime in terms of its

impact, particularly on the victim, and the victim the chance to separate the young person from the offence.

Following group dialogue on the harm caused by the young person’s actions, an ‘action plan’ will be devised. This

plan will take the form of a negotiated ‘contract’, with implications if the young person does not follow through what

is required of him or her. Agreement is a key factor in devising the ‘contract’, and the young person must consent to

its terms. Ideally, the ‘contract’ will ultimately have some form of restorative outcome, addressing the needs of the

victim, the young person and wider community.

The youth conferencing service marks a radical departure from previous approaches to young offending in Northern

Ireland. It is hoped that youth conferencing will significantly alter how victims and young people experience the

criminal justice system as, in theory, it offers both parties increased involvement in the process and the opportunity to

‘reclaim’ their case from a professionalised, often alienating system (Christie, 1977; Shapland et al, 1985).

Structure of the report

Chapter 1 presents an overview of the current body of restorative justice literature, examining both the philosophy

and claims of restorative justice and the various forms in which it has been implemented thus far. Chapter 2

proceeds with an explanation of the methodology employed in the research, while Chapters 3 to 7 (inclusive) present

the findings of the research in terms of initial referrals to the service, the convening of conferences and the return of

referrals to either court or the Public Prosecution Service. Chapter 8 presents a summary of findings arising from key

stakeholder interviews with Magistrates, the police and the Public Prosecution Service. Finally, Chapter 9 concludes

this report by offering comments on the findings of the research and ends with a number of recommendations, which

may assist in the further development of youth conferencing in Northern Ireland.

Introduction

Chapter 1

Review of the

literature and

research

Review of the literature and research

5

1.1 Introduction

This section reviews the literature and research carried out on restorative justice, setting its development in Northern

Ireland within an international context. In providing such an overview, it seeks to inform the research of potential

issues that may be encountered by the Northern Ireland model. It begins with a brief introduction to the philosophy

and claims of restorative justice, outlining the purported benefits to the victim, the young person, the community and

the state. Informed by restorative justice in theory, it then proceeds to examine how these programs operate in

practice, with a particular focus on restorative ‘conferencing’ schemes. By examining how effectively restorative

justice is implemented and operated elsewhere, examples of best practice and effective delivery are identified. In the

concluding section, issues critical to the present evaluation - such as the rights of participants, satisfaction with the

process and outcome and preventing re-offending - are addressed.

1.2 Restorative justice in theory

Defining restorative justice

In the past decade, support for restorative justice has gathered great momentum, given testimony by the large number

of schemes in operation internationally (Miers, 2001). It has been argued that restorative justice emerged as a critique

of traditional forms of justice (Crawford and Newburn, 2003) and many of its proponents depict it as an oppositional

paradigm to retributive justice (Zehr, 1990)4. In spite of its growth, arriving at an agreed definition of ‘restorative

justice’ has proved problematical (Roche, 2001). An examination of restorative justice programs worldwide presents

us with a diverse range of processes, which incorporate different levels of ‘restorativeness’. In effect, it could even be

said that ‘restorative justice has come to mean all things to all people’ (McCold, 2000). It is perhaps more useful to

describe restorative justice as an ‘umbrella’ concept as its diverse implementations in practice are theoretically

derived from a number of key principles. Van Ness and Strong (1997) have identified these principles as encounter,

reparation, reintegration and participation. Daly (2002: 58) further suggests that common features of restorative

justice include:

An emphasis on the role and experience of victims

The involvement of relevant parties to discuss the offence, its impact, and what should be done to

‘repair the harm’

Decision making which is carried out by both lay and legal actors.

That there is no rigid definition has been described by Braithwaite (2002: 15) as necessary; “standards must be broad

if we are to avert legalistic regulation of restorative justice, which is at odds with the philosophy of restorative

justice.”

Restorative justice takes a number of forms. Ideally, it will involve a meeting between victim and offender resulting in

an agreed outcome requiring the offender to undertake some form of reparation in order to repair the harm that they

have caused. In practice, the way in which this is facilitated and the extent to which ‘restoration’ is achieved will

differ. Models of restorative justice include family group conferencing (Maxwell and Morris, 1993; Dignan, 2005:),

police led restorative justice programs (O’Mahony et al, 2002; Hoyle et al, 2002) victim-offender mediation,

sentencing circles, panels (Crawford et al, 2003; Karp et al, 2001) and community facilitated schemes (McEvoy and

Mika, 2002). As will be illustrated later, although these schemes all operate within the broad framework of ‘restorative

justice’ they often differ significantly.

The claims of restorative justice

The benefits of restorative justice are typically set out with reference to the failings of the traditional criminal justice

system. Advocates of restorative justice argue that it resolves many of these criticisms by addressing the needs of the

victim, offender and wider community. The claims of restorative justice will now be analysed with reference to each

of these.

4 Daly (2002:59), however, has questioned this depiction and argues that such a “contrast is a highly misleading simplification which is used to

sell the superiority of restorative justice and its set of justice products.”

(i) The victim

Zigenhagen (1977) defines a ‘crime victim’ as “one who has experienced harm as a result of an offence” (cited in

Strang, 2002:2). It is widely acknowledged that victims of crime often feel dissatisfied and marginalised by their

experience of the traditional criminal justice process (Shapland et al, 1985). In recent times, a number of reforms

have been implemented in an attempt to address this. In the UK these reforms include the introduction of a Victim’s

Charter (HMSO, 2002) which establishes basic standards outlining the treatment a victim should expect to receive,

and ‘victim impact statements’ which endeavour to provide victims with a greater voice in the court process (Sanders

et al, 2001). In addition, the issue of victims was of central focus to the Criminal Justice Review in Northern Ireland.

Such victim-aware practices have developed in a context in which the victim is increasingly viewed as a ‘consumer’

of criminal justice, demanding high standards of quality when their case is dealt with (Zauberman, 2000). However,

whilst many advances have been made since the formative stages of the victim movement, critics argue that they

have been minor in nature and involve a ‘tinkering’ with the existing system rather than any substantive reform

(Roche, 2003: 8). In a review of international research Strang (2002: 2-3) outlines six prevailing needs of victims:

1. Victims want a less formal process where their views count;

2. Victims want more information about the processing and outcome of their cases;

3. Victims want to participate in their cases;

4. Victims want to be treated respectfully and fairly;

5. Victims want material restoration;

6. Victims want emotional restoration, especially an apology.

These concerns highlight the importance attached to involvement, information, fairness and restoration by the victim

(Doak, 2005).

Proponents contend that restorative justice addresses many of these concerns. It claims to offer the victim direct

involvement in their case where the traditional justice system would otherwise marginalise them. A professionalized

court-based criminal justice system has resulted in what Christie (1977) famously terms as conflicts being ‘stolen’

from the involved parties whereby the state takes over ‘conflicts’ between citizens. This leads to a form of ‘double

victimisation’ where, in addition to the crime, the victim also loses participation in their case (Christie, 1977: 25). In

theory, the restorative process can overcome the victim’s marginalised position. It is said to give the victim a ‘voice’

by offering them direct involvement whilst avoiding direct responsibility for outcomes. Research with victims in

restorative justice shows that victims wish their views to be taken into account by decision-makers but do not

necessarily want decision-making power (Wemmers et al 2004: 268). Restorative processes also offer victims the

opportunity to meet ‘their’ offender. In its policy on restorative justice in criminal justice Victim Support submit that

for some victims there can exist a psychological need for information, which can be provided only by the perpetrator

(Victim Support, 2003). Within restorative justice victims are provided with the opportunity to ask basic questions

such as ‘why did the crime happen?’ or ‘why was I victimised?’ (Johnstone, 2001). Restorative programs may also

allow the victim to obtain reparation directly from the offender, something which is unlikely to occur in court. Where

full compensation is not possible, the offender may provide symbolic reparation, which is said to be often more

important to victims (Retzinger and Scheff, 1996; Braithwaite, 2002). Importantly, the restorative process claims to

empower the victim and enable them to regain control; “their sense of personal autonomy has been stolen from them

by the offender, and they need to have this sense of personal power returned to them” (Zehr, 1990: 27; see also

Barton, 2000).

(ii) The offender

Restorative justice is also said to offer numerous benefits to offenders. Many restorative programs draw inspiration

from John Braithwaite’s (1988) theory of ‘reintegrative shaming’. ‘Reintegrative shaming’ proposes that the offence,

and not the offender, should be the focus of disapproval. Braithwaite contends that when an offender is negatively

stigmatized by being labelled as a criminal and punished they will often find it difficult to reintegrate back into the

community. The restorative process, which is based on mutual respect, is said to facilitate the ‘positive shaming’ of an

offender by bringing him or her face to face with those affected by the offence. This is in marked contrast to the

conventional criminal justice process to which the offender is typically a bystander: “pre-trial and trial procedures do

not engage them; they rarely participate directly; they are generally expected to communicate with the court through

their lawyer [...] they remain fundamentally untouched by both processes and outcomes” (Morris and Young, 2000:

17). The direct involvement of the affected parties enables the offender to see the human consequences of their

actions and the process “builds on the insight that crime comes easily if the victim is denied” (Hudson, 2002:180).

Consequently, the offender is held to account by those most affected by their actions. If a restorative practice is

Review of the literature and research

6

Review of the literature and research

7

diversionary, it can hold the offender accountable for their wrongdoing whilst avoiding a potentially stigmatizing

criminal record. Restorative programs may also provide a supportive forum in which the causes of offending

behaviour can be addressed. Outcomes may be tailored in respect of this – for example counselling or re-education

for drug or alcohol abuse may be undertaken. Finally, restorative justice claims to increase procedural justice. When

offenders feel that they have been treated fairly by the criminal justice system, it is argued that they are more likely to

respect and obey the law in future (Tyler, 1990).

(iii) The community

Many advocates of restorative justice emphasize the central role of ‘community’ to restorative practices. There exists

some dispute as to what constitutes a ‘community’ and if traditional conceptions of ‘community’ in fact exist

(Johnstone, 2001: 29; Walgrave, 2000). McCold and Watchel (1998a: 71) suggest that ‘community’ is not necessarily

a ‘place’ but better understood in abstract terms; a “personal connectedness both to other individual human beings

and to a group.” Indeed, McCold submits that restorative justice differs from other forms of informal justice because

of its view of ‘community’. In this sense, restorative justice seeks closed networks or communities of care known to

the victim and offender. Unlike community justice, restorative justice rejects other communities, which embodies

many of the power imbalances associated with wider social injustice, (McCold, 2004). On another view, however, a

more inclusionary view of community enhances the potential for restorative processes to work with and connect to a

wider range of individuals and agencies, (Umbreit et al, 2004; Karp, 2004).

In practice, the degree of direct community involvement in restorative programs varies. Some programs are entirely

community-led as evident in some areas of Northern Ireland, (McEvoy and Mika, 2002) whilst others are state-based

and may make use of representatives or facilitators drawn from the community. The rationale behind community

involvement is twofold. Firstly, the community is said to be a “key resource for achieving restorative goals”

(Johnstone, 2001: 152). It accomplishes this by acting as a positive force encouraging the offender to repair the harm

that has resulted from their actions whilst providing them with support in ceasing their offending behaviour5.

Secondly, the restorative process is said to empower and strengthen communities by enabling them to become

involved in problem-solving and conflict resolution (McCold, 1996).

(iv) The state

Walgrave (2000: 264) identifies the involvement of a ‘collective third party’ as crucial to restorative justice. This third

party is often identified as ‘community’, yet to many commentators the state is also an important actor in the

development of a “fully fledged restorative justice system”6. If restorative justice is to become a mainstream

approach to offending, it is clear that it must demonstrate tangible benefits to the state and community. Advocates

assert that restorative practices can generate such benefits - including increased public confidence and satisfaction

with the criminal justice system (Crawford and Newburn, 2003: 219). Justice, in its new participatory format, will

literally be ‘seen to be done’. The decentralised nature of restorative justice is further said to yield cost benefits,

particularly when compared to the expenses involved in formally processing, detaining or imprisoning offenders.

Reduced re-offending is commonly cited as a core advantage of restorative justice (Maxwell and Morris, 2002). Those

who attend a restorative program are said to be “much less likely to commit further crimes than similar offenders who

go through a conventional punitive process” (Johnstone, 2001: 21), although evidence to support such claims is far

from solid. On a much broader scale, Roche (2002: 24) suggests that the establishment of restorative justice can

revitalize the general ‘health’ of the state by “offering the potential to reinvigorate democratic governments and their

laws”.

Nevertheless, there are those who may question the role of the State in implementing restorative justice. In a recent

critique of restorative justice, Pavlich identifies what he terms an ‘imitor paradox’ within restorative governmentalities

(Pavlich, 2005). This ‘imitor paradox’ arises from a simultaneous defiance and imitation: restorative justice defines

itself in defiance of basic concepts within adversarial justice processes but relies for its survival upon conventional

criminal justice beliefs such as notions of, ‘crime’, ‘offender’ and ‘victim’ (2005: 14). One implication is that

restorative justice beholds wide political appeal; by situating itself both inside and out of the traditional justice system

it offers elements favourable to an array of groups (2005: 107) including traditional State actors. However, Pavlich

warns that this sympathetic process may come to serve the very system, which it sought to replace (2005: 108). As

such, situating restorative justice within the apparatus of State risks absorption by the conventional justice system.

5 Notably, Crawford and Newborn (2003:52) point out that ‘community reintegration’ rests upon the assumption that this is a desirable aim, with

little questions as to the legitimacy of the community which may have abused or marginalised the offender.

6 Community restorative justice schemes can often have an uneasy relationship with state led practices. See McEvoy and Mika (2002) and Roche

(2002) for further discussion.

Nevertheless, those who perceive a supportive role for the State in restorative justice behold a more pragmatic

approach: the role of State as gatekeeper or as final arbiter ensures a crucial guard against the common criticism that

informal justice processes lack the procedural mechanisms necessary to safeguard due process and participant’s rights

(Vanfraechem et al, 2004: 73; Vanfraechem, 2005: 281).

Process and outcome

At this juncture, it is important that a distinction is made between restorative process and restorative outcomes

(Braithwaite, 2002; Roche, 2001). Procedural definitions view process as inherently ‘restorative’. Daly (2002: 57)

states this is typified by Marshall’s (1999:4) description of restorative justice as “[a] process whereby all the parties

with a stake in a particular offence come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the

offence and its implications for the future”. In this sense, once the victim and the offender meet and an agreed

outcome is achieved, restorative justice is said to have taken place. On the other hand, outcome definitions consider

“every action that is primarily orientated towards doing justice by repairing the harm that has been caused by crime.”

(Bazemore and Walgrave, 1999: 48). The ‘restorativeness’ of the outcome is therefore more important than the way in

which it is achieved. Morris (2002: 600) favours a flexible model which balances both process and outcome. She

suggests that: “the essence of restorative justice is not the adoption of one form rather than another; it is the adoption

of any form which reflects restorative values and which aims to achieve restorative processes, outcomes and

objectives”.

Measuring ‘restorativeness’

Roche (2001:351) suggests that it is no longer useful to simply assert whether or not a practice is restorative, but

instead it is important to be able to determine how restorative it is by assessing both its process and values (see also

Braithwaite, 2002). Depending on how it operates in practice, the ‘restorativeness’ of a program may be measured on

a sliding scale. The overall restorativeness of a program can be determined by the level of victim reparation, offender

responsibility and reconciliation with ‘communities of care’ achieved (McCold, 2000). Where all these criterions are

met, the model can be described as ‘fully’ restorative. Where only one or two of the criteria are achieved the model

is either ‘mostly’ or ‘partly’ restorative; for example, a restorative program which has no victim in attendance is, in

theory, only ‘partly’ restorative. Likewise, outcomes that involve reparation to the wider community rather than to an

individual victim are only ‘partly’ restorative.

The subsequent section will examine restorative justice’s potential for application - whether the theory surrounding it

is capable of transferring into practice. Following a selection of case-studies illustrating restorative justice in

operation, the schemes will then be critically examined to ascertain whether these values and claims are in fact being

achieved.

1.3 Restorative justice in practice

As already mentioned, the difficulty in establishing an accepted definition of restorative justice is reflected in the

diversity of how it operates in practice. A closer examination of the many programs defined as ‘restorative’ presents

us with a wide range of schemes which renders it problematic to pinpoint a single ‘definitive’ model of restorative

justice. Practices differ depending on, amongst other things, the level of formality, the stage of intervention, the

facilitating body, the parties involved and the type of offences dealt with. For example, some programs are based in

statute, whilst others are more informal. The offender may be referred to a scheme at different stages - some programs

operate as a diversionary intervention, others as a means of sentencing by the court. Programs can be organised by

different bodies. Some are police-led, such as the restorative cautioning scheme in Northern Ireland (O’Mahony et al,

2002), whilst others are local community initiatives (McEvoy and Mika, 2002). Many programs involve the offender

meeting the victim face-to-face, others facilitate indirect mediation, and some involve no victim. A model may

provide for the inclusion of the wider community whilst others can take the form of private sessions involving only

those directly affected by the offence. In many jurisdictions, the seriousness of offences dealt with will vary, ranging

from very serious crimes to minor offending, such as shoplifting. These brief illustrations highlight enormous potential

for divergence amongst restorative models in practice.

Review of the literature and research

8

Review of the literature and research

9

The Northern Ireland youth conferencing service has its roots in the ‘family group conferencing’ model as established

in New Zealand (Maxwell and Morris, 1993). Consequently, models, which have developed under this framework

warrant particular attention7. Family group conferencing typically involves a meeting of the offender, their family and

the victim(s). The process aims to facilitate inclusive dialogue and offer a solution or way forward, which addresses

both the impact of the offence and the offending behaviour (Dignan, 2005: 115). The following section will consider

how ‘conferencing’ models operate examining their development, characteristics, and implementation with reference

to evaluative research. It is often difficult to make direct comparisons between programs, owing to variance in both

research methodology and the delivery and philosophy of different schemes. Indeed, Miers warns that when

evaluating programs it “is necessary to be alert to the differing types of restorative justice being offered” (Miers, 2004:

35). However, most evaluations carried out to date have focused upon common themes of participant satisfaction,

procedural justice, rights issues, ‘restorativeness’ and recidivism (Kurki, 2003). This section will firstly examine

legislated conferencing models operating in New Zealand, New South Wales and England and Wales and then will

proceed to assess the non-legislated, police-led ‘Reintegrative Shaming Experiment’ (RISE) conferencing scheme in

Canberra, Australia.

New Zealand - Family group conferencing

(i) Background

Introduced in 1989 as part of the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act, the family group conferencing

process is fully incorporated into the formal criminal justice system and deals with a majority of young offenders. The

New Zealand model is perhaps the most widely known restorative scheme and has served as a benchmark for many

other programs. The family group conferencing model emerged during a shifting political climate characterised by a

questioning of the existing welfare-driven youth justice system and increased Maori activism and debate over the

cultural appropriateness of a western colonial model of justice. The New Zealand model has often been described as

a revived “indigenous” justice practice with direct roots in Maori tradition. This has been rejected by some

commentators who instead depict it as a mixed model of informal justice which offers a potentially “culturally

sensitive” and “culturally appropriate” way of dealing with young offenders (Daly, 2002). Nevertheless, intrinsic to

both the family group conferencing model and Maori culture is the idea of whanau (extended family) as a key

channel of change and support. The New Zealand model emphasises inclusive participation and collective decision

making and the achievement of “social balance […] by reintegrating young people in their family and community

and by determining appropriate means of redress for victims.” (Maxwell and Morris, 1998)

(ii) What are its characteristics?

The underlying philosophy of the New Zealand youth justice system is that criminal proceedings should only be

instigated against a young person where there are no alternative means of dealing with the offence. Young offenders

can only be arrested in strict circumstances and in 1996 only 11% of young offenders were arrested (Morris and

Maxwell, 1998), a significant reduction from previous practice8. Instead, the principle of diversion underpins both

family group conferencing and the New Zealand youth justice system as a whole. The key aims of the New Zealand

model are:

to divert the young person away from the formal justice system;

to facilitate family participation and empowerment ;

to accommodate and involve the victim;

to operate in a culturally appropriate manner;

to arrive at decisions through consensus.

Any young person aged between 14 and 17 years old who admits to an offence is eligible for family group

conferencing. Conferences can be convened for any offence with the exception of murder and manslaughter.

Consequently, very serious offences such as rape and robbery can be dealt with through conferencing. Formal court

proceedings are often alienating to both victim and offender and, in acknowledgement of this, a conference usually

takes place in an agreed informal setting, such as the offenders family’s home or a Maori meeting house (Marae). The

most common venue for a conference, however, is Department of Social Welfare premises, which, it is argued, may

7 Due to constraints of space alternative models such as victim-offender mediation and sentencing circles will not be examined. Dignan and

Lowey (2000) and Miers (2001) provide good overviews of further models of restorative justice in operation.

8 A young person will only be arrested to ensure their appearance before court, to prevent them from re-offending or to prevent the loss or

destruction of evidence

Review of the literature and research

10

be less intimidating for the victim (Maxwell and Morris, 1993). Those entitled to attend include the offender and their

(extended) family, the victim and their supporters, a police officer, a lawyer and anyone else the family feels should

be present. The number of participants will vary - conferences involving Maori young people are often attended by

their extended family, some conferences having taken place with up to twenty-seven participants (Maxwell and

Morris, 1993: 77).

(iii) How is it implemented?

The Department of Social Welfare is responsible for the administration of family group conferences. Cases may be

referred in two ways; (i) by the police following an admission of guilt as a pre-charge mechanism to determine

whether prosecution can be avoided or (ii) by the youth court as a post charge mechanism to determine how to deal

with young people who admit guilt or are found guilty9. A conference is convened and facilitated by a youth justice

co-ordinator who is expected to assume a low-key role and enable the participants to regulate a conference how they

‘think fit’10. The New Zealand Ministry of Justice illustrate a typical conference process as involving:

Introductions / mihi, and karakia (prayer);

An explanation of the procedure by the Youth Justice Coordinator;

The presentation of the summary of facts of the offence by the police;

An opportunity for the offender to comment on the accuracy of the police statement;

A formal admission by the young person;

An opportunity for the victim (or representative) to present their view if the offender admits the offence;

A general discussion of possible outcomes;

A discussion of options among the offender's family;

General negotiation and the formulation of a plan, response or outcome by the FGC participants;

Agreement from participants;

Recording of the agreed plan and closure of the meeting11.

In practice, many conferencing schemes have followed the same basic outline as the New Zealand model. The main

objective of a conference is the agreement of a plan – however, in some cases, a number of conferences may be

required before an agreed outcome is reached. In order for a plan to come into effect it must be ratified by the court

which has the power to impose additional sanctions if recommended by the family group conference. A plan is

monitored by a youth justice co-ordinator for compliance and, if successfully completed, proceedings against the

young person are normally withdrawn. If the young person fails to carry out the requirements of a plan, a second

conference may be convened to address this. If this proves unsuccessful the court can then proceed to act as a

‘quality control’ mechanism by exercising its own sentencing for the offence (Dignan and Lowey, 2000: 27).

(iv) How is it working in practice?

The most comprehensive study of the family group conferencing system has been undertaken by Maxwell and Morris

(1993). They concluded that the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act (1989) was generally successful in

meeting many of its named objectives. Satisfaction levels for offenders and their parents who participated were high,

with 84% conveying approval towards family group conferencing. With regards to reconviction, findings from a six

year follow up study have suggested that “restorative processes and practices can have a positive impact on helping

people to avoid reoffending” (Maxwell and Morris, 2002: 133). On the other hand, victim participation levels in

family group conferences were somewhat low at 41%. Of the victims who participated, only 51% expressed

satisfaction and a third of victims who attended reported feeling worse afterwards. This suggests that overall benefits

to the victim are somewhat inconclusive, although it appears that conferencing can clearly be a positive experience

for many victims.

However, a more recent study shows that the overall results from FGC remain largely positive (Maxwell et al, 2004).

The results show an improvement in victim attendance with a victim present for half of the conferences studied. In

addition, 87% of victims reported feeling better following the conference with only 5% stating that they felt worse,

(2004: 158). Nevertheless, the authors contend that there remains room for improvement including ensuring that

victims feel involved in making decisions, that there exists sufficient victim support and that follow-up information is

provided for both attending and non-attending victims, (2004: 181). Young people reported positively on their

9 Family Group Conferences: Practical Implementation - http://www.justice.govt.nz/youth/fgc.html

10 Section 256, Children Young Persons and their Families Act (1989)

11 Family Group Conferences: Procedure: The Conference and the Plan - http://www.justice.govt.nz/youth/fgc.html

Review of the literature and research

11

experiences of conference processes and indicated high levels of satisfaction. On the other hand, it is important to

note that one-third felt stigmatised with half agreeing that the, “way I was dealt with made me feel like a bad person”

(2004: 124)12. Even with this result the vast majority felt that they were treated fairly and with respect (2004: 127).

Re-offending and positive life outcomes were related to earlier life experiences and events subsequent to the FGC.

However, certain conference features such as good preparation, enabling feelings of remorse and being able to repair

harm were identified as important if re-offending is to be less likely (Maxwell 2005: 63). In addition, it was noted that

re-offending might be reduced where the young person acquires a sense of forgiveness and an intention not to reoffend,

(Maxwell et al, 2004: 248). In a further presentation of this research Maxwell notes that few of the young

people were given the opportunity to engage in meaningful or effective programmes, (Maxwell, 2005: 64). Therefore,

it is possible that a development in the quality of programmes could impact further on the positive results from

conference processes, (2005: 64).

New South Wales - Youth justice conferencing

(i) Background

Established in 1991 in New South Wales, the Wagga Wagga conferencing pilot scheme was one of the first restorative

programs to be introduced in Australia. The scheme’s theoretical roots can be located in John Braithwaite’s concept of

‘reintegrative shaming’ (Braithwaite, 1988). The Wagga scheme emerged around the same time as the New Zealand

model, but differed significantly in two ways: it was not based in legislation and the program was entirely

administered by the police. Each week, a police “adjudication panel” examined juvenile cases and, where the young

person admitted guilt, they could choose to divert them from the formal court system by referring them to a

conference (Moore and Forsythe, 1995). Conferences were facilitated by police officers who initially used a general

set of protocols to guide the process. These were eventually formalised into a script devised by Sergeant Terry

O’Connell to ensure that procedural restorative justice took place13. In 1994, a new pilot scheme of community

youth conferencing was introduced in New South Wales, replacing the Wagga Wagga pilot14. This was later passed

into legislation in the form of the Young Offenders Act (1997).

(ii) What are its characteristics?

In New South Wales, young offending is dealt with using a legislated ‘hierarchy of interventions’ (Trimboli, 2000)

administered depending on the offence and any previous contact the young person may have had with the justice

system. The first and least restrictive of these interventions is a police warning, followed by a formal police caution

and finally a youth justice conference will be convened where previous interventions have proved unsuccessful.

Youth justice conferences are therefore not intended for first time offenders. Young people aged between 10 and 17

who commit summary or indictable offences are eligible for youth justice conferencing (Section 8, Young Offenders

Act). These offences include “assault, robbery, break, enter and steal, motor vehicle theft, theft, receiving, property

damage and disorderly conduct” (Strang, 2001: 7). The guiding principles of youth justice conferencing are:

to ensure that the child accepts responsibility for what they have done

to empower the family

to prevent further offending by providing support for the child

to enhance victims rights and have regard to the victim’s interests

be culturally appropriate

One of the main criticisms directed at the previous Wagga Wagga scheme was that, as it was led by the police,

conferences were held at police stations. It was argued that this choice of venue made it difficult for participants to

view the process as neutral and independent from the day to day functions of the police (Blagg, 1997). The new

youth justice conferencing scheme addressed these concerns by using a non-police body to facilitate the conferences

and by adding the requirement that they be held in a neutral venue.

12 The research incorporated two samples, a restorative sample of 520 young people who had participated in a conference with an interview sample of 105 young

people, (2004: 23 and 36).

13 An overview of it’s development is provided at: http://iirp.org/library/nacc/nacc_oco.html

14 Although succeeded in New South Wales by a legislated model of youth justice conferencing , the influence of the Wagga Wagga police-led model has been farreaching

inspiring practices in Thames Valley, England and Canberra, Austrailia.

(iii) How is it implemented?

The New South Wales scheme is facilitated by a Youth Justice Conferencing Directorate, a branch of the Department

of Juvenile Justice. It was decided that the conferencing system should not be administered by the police as in

Wagga Wagga but by an agency “not only neutral and independent of specific interest groups, but [with] an

established infrastructure across NSW” (Trimboli, 2000: 3). A referral to a conference can be made by a specialist

youth police officer as a diversionary intervention or by a court. The young person and their supporters, the young

person’s legal representative, the victim and their supporters, a specialist youth officer, investigating official and

anyone else who the convenor deems useful are entitled to attend the conference. The conference is facilitated by

convenors recruited from the community on a contractual ‘pool’ basis who are allocated individual conferences

depending on their appropriateness to the individual case (Trimboli, 2000)15. If a conference is successful, an

outcome plan will be drawn up by the participants. A plan may contain:

the making of an oral or written apology, or both, to any victim,

the making of reparation to any victim or the community,

participation by the child in an appropriate program,

the taking of actions directed towards the reintegration of the child into the community.

(Section 52(5), Young Offenders Act)

However, this is not a prescribed list and it is up to the participants to decide upon an appropriate outcome16.

Importantly, the legislation requires that plans are proportionate - they should contain “realistic and appropriate

sanctions that are not more severe than those that might have been imposed in court proceedings for the offence” (S

52(6)). Adherence to a plan is compulsory and the young person will be monitored by a conference administrator for

compliance.

(iv) How is it working in practice?

The New South Wales youth justice conferencing scheme was subject to a major evaluation in 1999 by the New

South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Trimboli, 2000). The evaluation focused on participant

satisfaction and whether statutory objectives and the general principles of the conferencing scheme were being

achieved. 969 participants took part in the study and, overall, there were high levels of satisfaction: 79.1% of victims

and 90.2% of offenders were satisfied with the way in which their case had been dealt with by the justice system.

Attendance by victims at conferences was high at 72.5% and they indicated that they were provided with the

opportunity to explain the impact of the offence (98.1%). Indeed, both victims and offenders reported that they felt

involved in the process: 91% of offenders and 98% of victims agreed or strongly agreed that they were given the

opportunity to express their views. In terms of what was agreed, participant satisfaction was also high: 89% of victims

and 91% of offenders agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “you are satisfied with the conference outcome

plan”. Research comparing reoffending levels between conferencing and court in New South Wales found that

“conferencing produces a moderate reduction of up to 15 to 20 per cent in reoffending across different offence types

[…] regardless of the gender, criminal history, age and Aboriginality of the offender” (Luke and Lind, 2002). Overall,

these findings indicate high levels of satisfaction reflecting positively on the conferencing process in New South

Wales for both victims and offenders.

England and Wales – Referral orders

(i) Background

In 1997, the Labour government produced a White Paper entitled No More Excuses calling for action to be taken to

“maximise the impact of the youth court on young offenders, making it as effective as possible at tackling offending

behaviour, especially for young people appearing before the court for the first time” (Home Office, 1997). These reforms

were brought about in the form of referral orders, introduced in England and Wales in Part 1 of the Youth Justice and

Criminal Evidence Act (1999). In April 2002, following an 18 month pilot scheme and evaluation (Newburn et al, 2001),

referral orders became available as the primary court disposal for first time offenders between the ages of 10 and 17

throughout England and Wales. Referral orders divert a young person away from court to a Youth Offender Panel designed

to provide them with the opportunity to “make restoration to the victim, take responsibility for the consequences of their

offending behaviour, and achieve reintegration into the law-abiding community” (HMSO, 1999). Youth Offender Panels

are said to draw inspiration from a diverse range of restorative programs and theories including the Scottish Children’s

Hearing system, New Zealand’s family group conferencing model, John Braithwaite’s theory of “reintegrative shaming”

and ‘restorative cautioning’ as practiced by the Thames Valley Police (Crawford and Newburn, 2002: 479).

Review of the literature and research

12

15 For example, it may be culturally appropriate to allocate an Aboriginal convenor where the young person is Aboriginal

16 Section 52(1) states that “the participants at a conference may agree to make such recommendations decisions as they think fit”.

Review of the literature and research

13

(ii) What are its characteristics?

Referral orders are available as a mandatory disposal for first time offenders aged between 10 and 17 who are found

guilty and convicted by a court. They are designed to “provide a forum away from the formality of the court where

the young offender, his or her family and, where appropriate, the victim can consider circumstances surrounding the

offence(s) and the effect on the victim” (Crawford and Newburn, 2003: 59). They are therefore intended as a

diversionary measure to curb offending at an early stage. A young person is referred by the court to a Youth Offender

Panel whose function is to address the young person’s offending behaviour and decide what form of action should be

taken. If the victim wishes, they may attend the panel meeting and convey to the young person how the crime has

affected them. In many jurisdictions, a young person must consent to taking part in a restorative program; however,

this is not the case with referral orders which are ordered by the court. Equally, the parents (or parent) of a young

person under the age of 16 are compelled to attend the panel, a power which the court may extend to apply to older

offenders. A significant characteristic of the referral order process is the direct involvement of community: panel

meetings are chaired by two Community Panel Members and practice guidelines suggest that they should be

convened in community venues. As such, referral orders mark a step towards decentralisation and a considerable

departure in the delivery of youth justice in England and Wales.

(iii) How is it implemented?

Youth Offender Panels are facilitated by a Youth Offending Team member and two trained volunteers from the local

community17. Panel meetings are usually held in the evening at informal community venues. The young person, their

parents (or appropriate adult), Youth Offending Team members and Community Panel Members must attend a

meeting. A victim (or their representative), a supporter of the victim and anyone “capable of having a good influence

on the offender” may also attend18. Notably, government guidelines state the young person should not have legal

representation at the panel meeting as it may prevent them from becoming fully involved in the process (Home

Office, 2002: 32). If a solicitor does attend a meeting, it should instead be in the role of a supporter.

The intended outcome of a panel meeting is the agreement of a “challenging but achievable” (Crawford and

Newburn, 2003: 134) contract which will provide reparation to the victim or community and include interventions

which address the young person’s offending behaviour. Possible interventions can include family counselling,

mentoring, victim awareness sessions and drugs or alcohol programs. In order to maintain the restorative nature of

the meeting a contract must be negotiated and not imposed on a young person. The amount of reparation in the plan

should be directly proportionate to the offence and length of the order imposed. If the meeting fails to reach an

agreed outcome the Youth Offending Panel will report back to the court, who will then reconsider how the young

person should be dealt with. A contract is enforceable and subject to monitoring and review by the Youth Offending

Team. If the young person fails to comply with the terms of the contract, the Youth Offending Team will refer the

young person back to the court to consider re-sentencing.

(iv) How is it working in practice?

An 18 month evaluation of referral orders was undertaken for the Home Office throughout the eleven pilot areas

across England and Wales in 2000 and 2001 (Newburn et al, 2001). Referral Orders were subsequently introduced

in April 2002 as a court disposal nationwide. The research focused on the recruitment and training of youth offender

panel members and the implementation and overall impact of referral orders. Certain of the results related to the

actual scheme of the legislation, namely the mandatory nature of Referral Orders and the fact that they apply to first

time offenders. Therefore, in interview, Magistrates indicated dissatisfaction that Referral Orders were issued for minor

offences and that their preferred disposal would often have been a conditional discharge or fine (Newburn et al,

2002: 21-22).

As for the observational findings these suggest that young people participated actively in the panel meetings and that

they and their parents were generally happy and well informed about the purpose of the meeting. In 74% of cases,

contracts were successfully completed. Almost a quarter (23%) of young people who completed contracts went on to

re-offend but, given the narrow timeframe of the research, this may not be indicative of overall recidivism rates.

Victim participation rates proved to be very low at 13%, particularly when compared to other restorative schemes in

operation worldwide. As such, the majority of reparation in contracts was community-based rather than directed

towards individual victims. In terms of panel composition, government guidelines require that panel members are

‘properly representative’ of the community (Home Office, 2000). In practice, this balance proved difficult to attain,

17 The selection and recruitment of Community Panel Members is not based on qualifications but personal qualities such as good character, communication skills,

understanding and judgement (Home Office,2000).

18 Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act Part 1 s7(4)b.

Review of the literature and research

14

and it was found that the majority of panel members were white, female, professional, and over 40 years old

(Crawford and Newburn, 2002: 483). Overall, the study reflected rather positively on referral orders, concluding that

“within a relatively short period of time the panels have established themselves as constructive, deliberative and

participatory forums in which to address young people’s offending behaviour” (Newburn et al, 2001: 62).

Canberra – Reintegrative shaming experiment (RISE)

(i) Background

In Australia, two divergent approaches to restorative conferencing have been taken. As illustrated previously, New

South Wales adopted a legislated model of conferencing administered by the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Canberra took a different approach, and developed a model similar to the non-legislated police conferencing scheme

established in Wagga Wagga. Consequently, the Canberra program differs from the legislated conferencing models

illustrated previously, however due to fact that research into its operation explicitly compares experiences of

conferencing to court it nevertheless warrants attention. The Reintegrative Shaming Experiment or ‘RISE’ experiment

was established in 1995 and ran until 2000. It aimed to test the validity of three hypotheses:

Both offenders and victims find conferences to be fairer than court;

There will be less repeat offending after a conference than after court;

The public costs of providing a conference are no greater than the cost of processing offenders in

court.

It further aimed to examine the use of ‘shaming’ in conferences, theorising that conferences would produce more

positive ‘reintegrative’ shaming (Braithwaite, 1988) than court.

(ii) What are its characteristics and how is it implemented?

To facilitate a comparison between participant’s experiences a randomised controlled trial was implemented which

saw offenders randomly allocated to either court or conferencing (Strang, 2002: 70-72). The RISE project was not

confined to juvenile offenders but instead focused on four distinct offence groups:

Drink driving offences of any age;

Shoplifting by under 18 year olds;

Property crime with victims and offenders under 18 years of age19;

Violent crime by offenders under 30 years of age20.

To be eligible for conferencing the offender must admit to the offence and be resident in the area covered by the

project. They must be informed that their case was diverted to conferencing randomly and they have the choice to be

dealt with by a court if preferred (Strang, 2002:73). The format of the RISE conferences is very similar to the New

South Wales and New Zealand models; however it follows a more scripted pattern, as first established in the Wagga

Wagga scheme.

(iii) How is it working in practice?

The RISE project was the subject of a major research project carried out by the Centre for Restorative Justice at the

Australian National University. This evaluation has provided a valuable comparative insight into how victims and

offenders experience court and conferencing. Overall, the research looked more favourably on the conferencing

experience and came to the ‘inescapable’ conclusion that “both victims and offenders can name many ways in which

they prefer conferences to court” (Sherman et al, 1998: 165). Perceptions of fairness amongst victims and offenders

were higher and observations reported greater participation, emotional intensity, procedural justice, apologies,

forgiveness and time and effort given to justice in conferences than in court (Sherman et al, 1998). Conferences were

also said to increase offenders respect for the law and the police. In terms of testing Braithwaite’s theory of

reintegrative shaming the research interestingly reported more stigmatic shaming in conferences than in court. This,

however, was attributed to the fact shaming rarely occurs in court in any form. Data analysing repeat offending has

been less conclusive. Recidivism patterns were assessed over a one year period and it was found that there was no

19 Specifically, the offences eligible for the property experiment are burglary, theft, criminal damage, shoplifting, fraud, car theft,vehicle break-ins, possession of stolen

property or attempts at any of these.

20 Offences eligible for the violence experiment are assault occasioning actual bodily harm, common assault, act endangering life, fighting , possession of an offensive

weapon, arson or attemps at any of these.

Review of the literature and research

15

difference for property offenders and shoplifters, and a very slight increase in reoffending (4%) amongst drink driving

offenders. Conferences did however lead to a 38% drop in offending amongst violent offenders suggesting that the

impact of conferencing varies depending on the type of offence.

Victim analyses were carried out only on juvenile property crime and youth violence. High levels of victim

participation were reported with 82% of property victims and 91% of violence victims in attendance. By contrast,

victims whose cases were assigned to court attended very infrequently, primarily when giving evidence or appearing

as a witness21. Conferencing enabled many victims to receive an apology, whereas apologies were never made in

court. In terms of satisfaction, victims found conferencing fairer than court. Interestingly, there was some difference in

satisfaction amongst property and violence victims but there was nevertheless “moderately high level of satisfaction

regarding procedural justice” (Sherman et al, 1998: 151) amongst both. This discrepancy in satisfaction levels may be

explained by the nature of the crime – victims of violence were said to have suffered substantial harm, illustrated by

the fact that 62% of these victims required medical treatment. By in large, the research reflects positively on the RISE

experiment and concludes that “as long as there is at least no difference in both costs and recidivism, the advantages

of increased respect for police and greater victim involvement” (Sherman et al, 1998: 160) suggests that conferencing

is a desirable addition to the criminal justice system.

This section has set out how a number of key conferencing models are implemented and operate in practice. These

schemes are founded upon the same basic framework as the Northern Ireland model and, as such, how they work in

practice raises a number of pertinent issues relevant to the new youth conferencing scheme. These issues include the

effectiveness of restorative programmes vis-à-vis the traditional justice system and whether they are successful in

safeguarding participant’s rights. The subsequent section will now establish what critical issues are arising from

restorative justice in practice and proceed to examine them in greater depth.

21 Only 5% of property victims attended court and 13.3% oof violence victims attended court.

16

Is a plan supervised

for compliance?

A plan is supervised

by a Youth

Conference Coordinator.

Noncompliance

will be

referred back to

court or Public

Prosecution Service

Co-ordinator is

responsible for

reviewing a plan.

Non-compliance

may lead to 2nd

conference

Supervised by Youth

Offending Team.

Referred back to

court in the event of

non-compliance.

Will often contain

voluntary elements

Conference

Administrator

monitors plan for

compliance

Information not

available

Who ratifies

outcome?

Diversionary

Public

Prosecution

Service

Court-ordered

Court

Youth court

Youth Offending

Panel. Panel will

report to court if

no outcome is

agreed

Conference coordinator

will

report to court if

no outcome

agreed

Information not

available

Who can attend a

conference?

Must attend: offender,

coordinator, police officer,

appropriate adult

May attend: offender

supporter(s) and solicitor,

victim (or rep.) and

supporter(s), other person of

value

May attend: Youth justice coordinator,

offender, offender

family, police officer, lawyer,

victim and supporters

Must attend: offender, parents

or appropriate adult, YOT

member, two Community

Panel Members.

May attend: victim (or rep.),

victim supporter, offender

supporter and other person

who may be a ‘good

influence’ towards offender.

May attend:

Offender, offender family,

victim (or rep.) and

supporter(s), police, lawyer,

conference co-ordinator

May Attend:

Offender, offender family,

victim, victim supporter(s),

police officer

Who convenes a

conference?

Youth Conference

Coordinator (employee

of Youth Justice Agency)

Department of Social

Welfare

One Youth Offending

Team member and two

trained Community

Panel Members

Department of Juvenile

Justice Facilitators who

are recruited from

community on

contractual ‘pool’ basis

Facilitated by police

officers

How is a referral

made?

Diversionary

referred by Public

Prosecution Service

Court-ordered

on admission or

finding of guilt

Diversionary

referred by the police

pre-charge

Court-ordered

referred by a court

post-charge

Court-ordered

on pleading guilty

and on conviction

by court

Diversionary

Pre-court by specialist

youth police officer

Court-ordered

As sentencing option

Allocated randomly to

either court or

conferencing

Who is referred?

Young people aged

10-17 who are

resident in the pilot

area. Must consent

and admit to/ be

found guilty of

offence

Young people aged

14-17 who admit to/

are found guilty of an

offence

Young people aged

10-17. First time

offenders only

Young people aged

10-17 who commit

summary or indictable

offences

-Drink driving

offences of any age

-Shoplifting by under

18 year olds

- Property crime with

victims and offenders

under 18 years of age

- Violent crime by

offenders under 30

years of age

Aims

Consider how child

should be dealt with

for offence; make

reparation for the

offence; balance needs

of victim and offender

Diversion;

accountability;

strengthen and involve

families; due process;

victim involvement;

consensus decision

making; cultural

appropriateness

Confront consequences

of crime and prevent

re-offending

Discuss crime; support

young person; restore

harm done by way of

agreed plan

To analyse the

difference between

offender and victim’s

experience of court

and conferencing

Legislation

Justice (NI) Act

2002

Children, Young

Persons and their

Families Act (1989)

Youth Justice and

Criminal Evidence

Act (1999)

Young Offenders

Act (1997)

Not based in

legislation

Model

Northern Ireland

youth conferencing

New Zealand

family group

conferencing

England and Wales

youth offender

panels

Australia

New South Wales

youth justice

conferencing

scheme

Australia

Canberra

reintegrative

shamming

experiment (RISE)

Comparative overview of conferencing models

1.4 Critical issues

The claims put forward by both theorists and practitioners of restorative justice demand careful consideration.

Informed by conferencing schemes in practice, this section examines critical issues arising from restorative justice

practices highlighting contentious areas and potential discrepancies between discourse and practice. These issues are

set out with reference to the experiences of the key actors in the restorative process: the victim and offender.

The victim

(i) Victim participation

Victims take part in restorative programs for a number of reasons. Maxwell and Morris (1993: 81) found that many

victims attend for their own interests whilst others may attend to support the young person. Reasons why victims take

part in restorative programs include:

To regain a sense of empowerment;

To ask basic questions of the offender; for example ‘why me?’;

To confront the offender and explain the impact of the crime;

To obtain some form of reparation;

To help the offender;

Curiosity.

Additionally, Strang (2002: 123) found that some victims "felt a responsibility to attend" whilst others believed

"offenders need to be confronted with what they’ve done" and wanted to "make sure he never does it again".

Victim participation is reported as high in a number of programs. In the South Australia Juvenile Justice (SAJJ)

conferencing scheme, 74% of conferences had victims present (Daly, 2003), and in New South Wales, 73% of

victims attended (Trimboli, 2000). However, victim participation rates are not consistently high. In Northern Ireland,

an ‘actual’ victim was only present in a minority of police-led restorative cautions, more often victim representatives

or ‘surrogate’ victims were used (O’Mahony et al, 2002)22. Similarly, only 13% of victims took part in Youth

Offender Panel meetings in England and Wales (Crawford and Newburn, 2003: 186). Researchers carrying out an

evaluation of victim’s experiences of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland explained the concept of youth

conferencing to a selection of victims and asked, hypothetically, if they would be willing to take part in the process.

Overall, only 27% of respondents said that they would be willing to participate (Northern Ireland Office, 2004: 66)23.

When a victim does not participate, either directly or indirectly, questions clearly arise as to how ‘restorative’ the

process really is (McCold, 2000). Resolving the issue of how to increase the number of victims attending restorative

meetings whilst being mindful of their right not to participate is an important one for practitioners. Crawford and

Newburn (2003: 54) suggest that a concern raised by restorative justice is that it "imposes new pressures, obligations

and responsibilities upon victims" who may feel obligated to participate. Victim attendance should always be

voluntary, and it is essential that they do not feel coerced into taking part (Brown, 1994: 1266; Reeves and Mulley,

2000). In practice it is difficult to gain effective and high levels of participation, but without this questions have to be

raised as to how restorative such programs actually are. Nevertheless, Victim Support urge that rather than having as a

target ‘increased victim participation’ a more victim-sensitive measure would focus on the proportion of victims given

the opportunity to make an informed choice as to their involvement in a restorative justice process (Victim Support,

2003a: 10).

The literature identifies a number of reasons highlighting why victims choose not to attend restorative programs.

Victims may wish to move on, be anxious about meeting the offender, be worried about retaliation or feel the offence

was too trivial. If the victim is a business they may not possess the time or staff resources to attend. Other reasons

highlight problems of implementation, such as failing to inform victims, unsuitable timing, lack of notice and the

victim not being invited (Maxwell and Morris, 1993: 80). Such difficulties can be overcome by good practice. For

example, it may be unfeasible for a victim to attend during working hours, in which case an evening conference

should be facilitated. Research in New Zealand supports greater flexibility, finding that a victim was more likely to

participate if a conference was held after 6pm (ibid).

Review of the literature and research

17

22 One of the schemes (Ballymena) dealt solely with retail theft. Surrogate victims, who were comprised of a panel of volunteer shop owners,attended to represent the

views and describe the impact of the theft on the business.

23 It must however be noted that the number of respondents was small.

Review of the literature and research

18

Overall, practice indicates that willingness to participate is not universal amongst victims, and that restorative

programs will not always be suitable in addressing a victim’s needs. When a victim chooses not to participate, a

number of pertinent issues arise. Hoyle (2002: 98) and Dignan, (2005: 4), warn that there is potential for a division of

treatment and experience between victims who participate and those who choose not to. Hoyle suggests that those

who decide not to take part:

“[…] will not only be less satisfied with the process than those who do, but will also remain afraid,

confused, and ignorant about the offender, the decision making of criminal justice agents and the

likely recurrence of the offending behaviour.”

It is therefore vital that, if they wish to receive it, information regarding the outcome of the conference is fed back to

non-participating victims. Hoyle further highlights the experiences of victims who do not attend in person but use

some other means of participation, such as a letter or tape recording describing the impact of the offence. She states

that it is important that such statements are conveyed accurately to the offender, and their impact reported back to

the victim, therefore ‘closing the loop’. This means that victims who do not participate may still receive some of the

benefits of restorative justice by being kept informed of both the process and outcome. The receipt of such

information is highlighted as being "particularly important where there is a chance that the offenders and victims will

have further contact" (Hoyle, 2002: 108).

(ii) Victim satisfaction

When victims do take part in restorative programs, many find it to be a positive experience and reported feeling

better after the conference. In New Zealand, 49% of victims expressed some satisfaction with the outcome (Maxwell

and Morris, 1993) and in later research 87 per cent of victims agreed with conference outcomes, (Maxwell et al

2004: 158). In addition, these recent findings suggest differing levels of satisfaction in relation to conference

outcomes depending on whether or not the victim attends. Therefore, those attending report higher levels of

satisfaction with conference decisions than non-attending victims, (Maxwell et a, 2004: 158-160). In the Canberra

‘RISE’ project, 70% of victims who participated in the program expressed satisfaction. Factors which may help in

achieving a positive experience are identified as:

Being involved in the process;

Being given the chance to explain impact of crime;

Understanding why the crime happened;

Receiving an apology from the offender;

Receiving reparation;

Obtaining an insight into the offender and their background.

Differences in satisfaction amongst victims become apparent when the nature of the offence is taken into account.

When broken down into offence type, victims of property offences are more likely to be satisfied with outcomes than

victims of violent offences. In the RISE project, Strang (2002) discovered that 80% of property victims were satisfied

whilst only 53% of violence victims reported satisfaction. This may be explained by the nature of violent offences;

according to Strang they "were usually intensely personal, and it was more difficult to reach an outcome agreement

that was truly satisfactory to the victim" (Strang, 2002: 136). This suggests that the type of offence may impact on

victim’s experience of the conferencing process. However, it could also be argued that such victims may be equally

or even more dissatisfied with how they are treated in the conventional criminal justice process; i.e. court. Indeed, in

a study comparing the experiences of victims at conference with the experience of sexual assault victims in court,

Daly concludes that conferences might offer more potential and provide procedures that are less cumbersome, (Daly

2005). The same study further suggests that variation in outcome for victims may be linked to more intricate details.

Therefore, the level of victim distress in the “aftermath of victimisation” may be an important indicator of victim

satisfaction. In a reanalysis of the SAJJ data, she found that most distressed victims experienced greatest difficulty in

acting restoratively in the conference, (2005: 160). Furthermore, through her focus on distress Daly indicates that it

may be useful to consider within as well as between offence differences, that is, the effect of a crime rather than type.

Therefore, while we might compare the experiences of victims of violence to those of property offences it may be

insightful to consider a within offence perspective. Daly notes that certain property victims, namely personal, may be

more distressed than others, for example, those who become victims as a result of an offence against a business

property, (2005: 161).

Review of the literature and research

19

Although restorative programs benefit many victims, a number of victims emerge from the conferencing experience

feeling worse. In New Zealand, for example, 25% of victims reported feeling worse following a conference (Maxwell

and Morris, 1993) although this figure did fall to only 5 per cent in later research, (Maxwell et al 2004: 158). Reasons

for negative experiences identified by victims in New Zealand, consistent with other evaluations, included:

Lack of support;

Intimidated by large numbers of the offender’s family;

Having to relive the crime;

Felt the outcome was inadequate;

The offenders lack of remorse/ defiance.

In practice, as each case is individual, it is difficult to foresee if a conference will be a positive or negative experience

for a victim. Predictors may include the type of offence and level of remorse displayed by the offender at early

meetings with the co-ordinator. Best practice suggests that a facilitator should prepare the victim for possible

outcomes and provide them with realistic expectations. It is also important to distinguish between a victim’s

satisfaction with the process and their satisfaction with the overall outcome. Indeed, a victim may leave a conference

dissatisfied but in the long term, the experience could in fact aid the healing process (Morris, Maxwell and

Robertson, 1993: 314). This indicates that longer-term evaluations may be more accurate in determining a victim’s

overall satisfaction.

(iii) Information

Victims have routinely identified poor levels of information as their case progresses as a source of dissatisfaction.

Restorative approaches claim to remedy this by offering victims direct participation in their case. In the RISE program

in Canberra this appears to have been achieved. It was found that victims were provided with more information in

conferencing than in court: 77% of property victims were given notice for the conference in good time, while only

15% of court cases were. However, the availability of follow-up information has not always been consistent in

restorative programs (Maxwell and Morris, 1993; Hoyle, 2002). Evaluations suggest that the degree of information

received by a victim has a significant impact on their overall satisfaction. It is therefore imperative that victims are

kept informed at all stages. This includes preparing the victim for their role, making them aware of what they should

expect from the process and informing them of potential outcomes. Indeed, thorough pre-conference preparation is

essential in securing a positive experience for victims. In New Zealand, nearly a third of victims who took part

expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome of the conference. This led Maxwell and Morris to question "the extent to

which they were fully informed that, when they were present at a FGC, their agreement was necessary for the

outcome to be accepted" (Maxwell and Morris, 1993: 121). Their observations confirmed that there was often failure

to ascertain whether victims were in agreement with the proposed plan (ibid). It is therefore paramount that a victim

has realistic expectations as to what they can expect to achieve from a conference.

Finally, information regarding the completion of agreements has not always been facilitated well. In New Zealand,

Maxwell and Morris (1993: 124; see also Maxwell et al, 2004: 182) identified poor follow up information as a factor

impacting on victim’s overall level of satisfaction:

“…few [victims] had been informed of the eventual success or otherwise of the outcome. This was

a source of considerable anger for them and absence of this type of information made victims who

did attend re-evaluate the experience.”

To illustrate this, Strang (2002: 140) describes a case in Australia’s ‘RISE’ project in which ‘a missing letter of apology’

and police failure to follow up on this led to the victim questioning their decision to take part in the conference. As

such, to many victims, the quality of follow-up information appears to be equally important as the process itself.

Review of the literature and research

20

(iv) Reparation and outcomes

It is submitted that there exists relatively little evidence to suggest that restorative justice can consistently restore

victims in terms of the consequences of victimisation, (Dignan, 2005: 164). A key aspect of restorative justice,

however, is that it enables the offender to provide the victim with some form of symbolic or material reparation.

Indeed, victims often identify the possibility of obtaining reparation as an important reason behind their decision to

take part. In England and Wales, it was found that 82% of contracts agreed at Youth Offender Panel meetings

involved some form of reparation. However, this should be understood in a context of victim participation levels of

only 13%. In reality, only 7% of contracts involved direct reparation to the victim or payment of compensation

(Crawford and Newburn, 2003: 136). As such, much of the ‘restorativeness’ was general and directed towards the

community as opposed to an individual who has suffered harm. In New Zealand, 30% of outcomes involved

reparation. This figure increased slightly to 42% where victims attended, which suggests that victim presence, may

have an impact on the chance of reparation (Maxwell and Morris, 1993: 93). In New South Wales, the ‘worst feature

of the plan’ was most commonly identified (23.4%) as "insufficient" or "untimely compensation for damage"

(Trimboli, 2000: 48). Comments made by victims include; "the cost of stolen goods was not recovered", "the

difference between the loss and the compensation paid" was not met and "repayment activity was made to appear

enjoyable" (Trimboli, 2000: 49).

When given the opportunity to make suggestions for a plan in a conference, some victims expressed uncertainty as to

what would be appropriate. A victim interviewed by Maxwell and Morris (1993: 120) in New Zealand felt that "we

couldn’t say what we felt in front of them. We were fearful of revenge if I said what I felt about the penalty". In

England and Wales, concerns were raised as to what form of reparation was suitable to be carried out by 10, 11 and

12 year olds. Crawford and Newburn have highlighted the difficulties encountered in devising suitable reparative

activities appropriate to the offence (Crawford and Newburn, 2003: 136). Financial reparation is a significant issue

when dealing with young offenders who often have no income to make monetary amends for their actions. In such a

situation, the responsibility may then fall upon their parent or guardian to recompense for the wrongdoing.

Finally, some have voiced concern should outcomes of restorative justice processes become ‘routinized’ or similar in

substance to sentences issued at court (Dignan 2005: 153). Dignan submits that even written apologies can become

standardised and that this threat is greater where there exists an emphasis on community as opposed to direct victim

involvement, (2005: 153). Following evaluation of a restorative project in England it was found that the writing of a

letter of apology whilst appearing to affect the goal of direct victim reparation could embody a more hidden agenda,

(Gray, 2005). Certain practices, including reported instances of letters not forwarded and simply held on file,

prompted the question of whether the apology constituted an exercise in offender responsibilisation rather than any

resolve to assist victims or achieve restoration, (Gray 2005).

(v) ‘Model’ victims

A further matter and perhaps most compelling as far as victim advocates are concerned is the fact that restorative

justice programmes are often directed by the circumstances of the offender and the definition of the offence, (Victim

Support 2003a: 4). Therefore, restorative justice is available only where the perpetrator has been caught, where he or

she agrees to forgo the court process and where the crime is within a list of offences eligible for a restorative

measure. This has led Zehr to ask, “are we being as victim-orientated as we claim?” (Zehr, 2005: 298). Dignan

submits that whilst restorative justice can assist certain victims it is unlikely to benefit all victims equally, (Dignan,

2005: 167). He questions whether or not there exists sufficient evidence to advocate restorative measures, (or indeed

traditional measures), for certain categories of victim including: non-stranger victims, for instance, those victimised as

a result of domestic abuse, (see also Victim Support, 2003), representative victims such as persons targeted as a result

of hate crime, (see also Pavlich, 2005: 79), ‘culpable’ victims and non-personal or corporate victims, (Dignan, 2005:

168). Nevertheless, it is feasible that restorative justice in its rejection of strict formality is more suited to the

complexities in each case. As Zehr submits, restorative justice can accept that, “…the truths about justice are

contextual”, (Zehr, 2005: 302). Therefore, in considering the ‘culpable’ victim, Dignan acknowledges that restorative

justice can embrace a more nuanced approach. Unlike traditional court processes the restorative dialogue permits

differing perspectives without allowing a denial by the offender for the offence. However, he concludes that in

practice this approach is difficult to realise and might be restricted where restorative measures attach to the

framework of a traditional justice system, (Dignan, 2005: 174).

Review of the literature and research

21

The offender

(i) Offender participation and satisfaction

By and large, most evaluations indicate that offenders are satisfied with their experience of the restorative process. In

New Zealand, for example, 84% of offenders and 80% of parents said that they were satisfied with the outcome of

the family group conference. By contrast offender perceptions of their involvement in the process were much lower:

34% of young people felt involved and only 9% felt that they ultimately decided the outcome (Maxwell and Morris,

1993: 115). Results from more recent research suggest some level of improvement with around half of the sample of

young people reporting that they felt involved in the conference process, (Maxwell, 2005: 59). Arguably, the

inclusion and active participation of the offender is vital to the restorative process and the extent to which it is

achieved may impact upon their perception of fairness and justice. Offenders are said to be more likely to obey the

law where procedural justice takes place (Tyler, 1990) and achieving this is therefore an important benchmark in

restorative practice. The RISE experiment suggested that this is occurring in conferences, indicating that conferencing

is more conducive to perceived procedural justice than court (Sherman et al, 1998).

The active participation of the offender should not be assumed to be inherent to the restorative process. Although

many programs require that the offender consents to take part they can often fail to engage in the process, show a

lack of remorse, or appear defiant. Roche (2003: 33) reminds us that positive accounts of restorative justice

describing "how people should respond are confused with the reality of how people do respond." Rather, offender

engagement is something that should be worked towards and "actively encouraged by those arranging youth justice

processes" (Maxwell and Morris, 1993: 128). Two important steps towards securing active offender participation are

an admittance of guilt and agreement to take part. If an offender is coerced into attending, attends a restorative

program against their will, or disputes their guilt, there may be little prospect for a positive outcome (Strang, 2002:

142-143). Where this occurs, it may also prove to be an extremely unsatisfactory experience for the victim.

As a final matter, certain forms of restorative justice, notably the New Zealand FGC, place importance on the role of

the young person’s family or whanau in considering overall satisfaction within the restorative process. Research by

Maxwell et al, (2004) shows an improvement in the experience of families or whanau when compared to the results

from 1990/91, (Maxwell and Morris, 1993). At least 80% of families or whanau interviewed felt satisfied with their

preparation for the conference, (2004: 164), and were overwhelmingly positive about their experience of the process,

(2004: 166). In relation to outcomes, 85% agreed with the decisions at the conference, (2004: 167). However, only

half indicated that they were given ideas about how to respond to the offending and over a quarter indicated feeling

like a bad person, (2004: 167). Comments from the families suggest that these feelings are often related to feeling,

“like a failure” and feeling responsible for the actions of the young person, (2004: 167). Observations of Vermont

Reparative Boards found that parents adopted the role of passive participant and understood their role to be only

secondary within the process, (Karp et al, 2004: 209-210). This research further suggests that while families may not

understand what restorative justice means they should be assisted to understand why the young person is agreeing to

perform particular tasks, (2004: 209). This is crucial where families often share responsibility for enforcing restorative

justice outcomes, (2004: 209; Clairmont, 2005: 263). In considering the experience of conferencing in Nova Scotia

results from follow-up interviews with families show that the majority remain in agreement with outcomes, are happy

with progress post conference and feel better able to cope with the young person, (Clairmont 2005: 255).

(ii) Rights issues

The United Kingdom criminal justice system operates within a relatively new ‘rights’ framework underpinned by the

Human Rights Act (1998). Of particular importance is Article 6 ECHR, establishing the right to a fair trial24. With this

in mind, careful attention must be paid to any potential breaches of offender’s rights which may occur as a byproduct

of the restorative process. Braithwaite (2002) contends that amongst restorative proponents the belief that

fundamental human rights should be respected in restorative practices is "near universal". Disagreement, he states,

lies in exactly what rights these should be. Where these are not clearly defined he warns that restorative justice may

potentially "trample rights because of impoverished articulation of procedural safeguards" (1999: 101). Warner (1994)

highlights a number of contentious aspects of the conferencing process as; breaches of due process, pressures to

plead guilty, power imbalances, disproportionate or inconsistent penalties, "net widening" and "double jeopardy". In

24 The European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950. The majority of provisions within the convention have been translated into UK

domestic law via the Human Rights Act 1998.

Review of the literature and research

22

general however, the European Court of Human Rights has recognised that while the prospect of appearing in court

can create a willingness to compromise, options to forgo court processes should not breach Article 6 provided that

the pressure is not compelling and that the provisions of Article 7 are respected, that is, the right of persons not to

receive sanction for conduct not amounting to an offence nor to receive harsher sanction than that applicable at the

time of the offence25. This must of course be read in light of the judgment in T&V v United Kingdom where the

court determined that ensuring the Article 6 rights of children and young people requires particular care including

assisting their participation and understanding of relevant justice procedures26.

Several International instruments provide rights applicable to children and young people in general and to the

specific circumstances of those accused or found guilty of a criminal offence27. While it is noted that the informal

processes of restorative justice sit uneasily with due process and fair trial rights, (Muncie 2005: 47) certain provisions

of children’s rights instruments advocate the informal resolution of cases, For instance, Article 40 of the United

Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child provides the following for children in conflict with the law:

“Whenever appropriate and desirable, measures for dealing with such children without resorting to

judicial proceedings, providing that human rights and legal safeguards are fully respected”, (Article

40 (3) (b) UNCRC).

Similarly, Rule 11 of the Beijing Rules recommends that whenever appropriate consideration should be given to

addressing the offence behaviour of children without resort to formal trial. However, informal measures must always

ensure respect for legal rights and adhere to Article 3 CRC, which demands that in all matters concerning the child

his or her best interests are of primary consideration. Maxwell et al (2004: 254), note that an important factor in

considering whether or not the rights of the young person have been respected include the extent to which they are

given an opportunity to query the police officer’s summary of facts at the conference and, in adopting a more holistic

approach, the extent to which rights are respected through the entire process including treatment on arrest and the

performance of legal representatives appointed to represent the young person. Finally, it is argued that when assessing

whether or not restorative based outcomes are suitable for children and young people one essential element is to

question how far they promote restorativeness but also the best interests of the child, (Haines and O’Mahony,

(forthcoming, 2006).

(iii) Net-widening and the referral process

Net-widening occurs when very minor offenders who would have previously fallen outside the justice system are

drawn in. Critics warn that restorative practices may widen the net of social control and lead to "a juvenile justice

system that is larger, that has expanded its coercive control into new arenas of youthful behaviour, and that is

drawing in clients who previously would have been ignored" (Polk, 1994: 135; see also Cohen, 1985). When

assessing the likelihood of net-widening, regard must be had to the type of offenders a restorative program is aimed at

(Morris, 2002). Consequently, schemes dealing with more serious offences are less likely to result in net-widening,

whilst diversionary schemes directed at low-level offending have increased potential to draw in minor offenders.

Paradoxically, although diversionary in principle, such schemes could lead to an increase in the number of young

people being brought into the criminal justice system.

Evaluations have proved inconclusive in determining if net-widening is occurring in practice. In New Zealand,

Maxwell and Morris (1993) found no evidence that family group conferencing was resulting in new cases being

drawn in, although recent research has noted a rise in police referrals to youth court and an increase in youth court

orders, (Maxwell 2005: 61). However, it is suggested that this rise may be due more to limited resources available to

FGCs and a lack of commitment to diversion on the part of some Police Officers, (Maxwell 2005: 62). In a police-led

scheme in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, it was concluded that "cases were successfully diverted without net-widening

effects" (McCold and Watchel, 1998: 108). By contrast, in an evaluation of the police—led restorative cautioning

scheme in Northern Ireland, net-widening was identified as a key concern. The authors warned of a potential influx

of "very young juveniles into the criminal justice system for very petty offences". They found that the restorative

cautioning process used considerable resources and the experience proved particularly onerous for minor offenders

(O’Mahony et al, 2002: 7). Best practice requires that effective ‘gate-keeping’ is established with careful attention

paid to the referral process. In order to guarantee consistency and to ensure only appropriate cases are referred this

should entail careful monitoring of who is being referred and for what.

25 The Deweer Case, 5 February 1980 Eur.Ct.HR. at para. 51(b).

26 T v UK; V v UK App. No. 24724/94, 16 December 1999.

27 Notably, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, (CRC), November 1989; The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of

Juvenile Jjustice, (The Beijing Rules), November 1985, The United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency, (the Riyadh Guidelines), 1990.

Review of the literature and research

23

(iv) Proportionality

The principle of proportionality requires that the outcome reflects the seriousness of the offence (Von Hirsch and

Ashworth, 2000). It places emphasis on due process and determinate, consistent sentencing. Critics warn that

proportionality may be compromised in restorative practices where the victim, whose level of forgiveness will

inevitably differ from case to case, has a say in what happens to the offender. This appears to contradict ‘desert

theory’ which has informed much of recent judicial practice (Von Hirsch, 2000). Maxwell and Morris (1993) reported

some evidence of disproportionate outcomes in New Zealand; on a number of occasions the end result appeared to

"outweigh the gravity of the offence" (Maxwell and Morris, 1993: 96). In addition, research has noted that 60% of

plans incorporate restrictive elements, which are not always necessary for public safety or in accordance with the

aims of New Zealand legislation, (Maxwell 2005: 58). In relation to Referral Orders in England and Wales it is

insightful to note that substitution effects in terms of traditional court orders occurred at the relatively lower levels

displacing disposals such as the conditional discharge and fine, (Newburn et al, 2002: 51). There is a further risk that

referrals to restorative programs may be made on an arbitrary basis and allocated with a focus on ‘welfare’ rather than

‘deserts’. Potentially, if a conference is viewed as more ‘beneficial’ to an offender other stages such as cautions or

warnings may be bypassed. In such circumstances this could lead to more intensive treatment than the offender

would otherwise have received (Roche, 2003); the process itself may be viewed not as an alternative to punishment

but an ‘alternative punishment’ (Daly, 2000; Young, 2001).

Ashworth suggests that to counter disproportionate sentences, upper limits should be established and "decided by

reference to publicly debatable and democratically determined policies that show respect for the human rights of

victims and defendants" (Ashworth, 2001: 359). Braithwaite (2002) concurs, asserting that outcomes should never be

in excess of punishments enforced by the courts for the same offence. However, Cavadino and Dignan (1997) reject

the idea of strict proportionality. They warn that, if enforced, it could potentially limit the scope for the victim and

offender to be actively involved in shaping reparation, as the tariff is pre-determined. Strang (2002: 14-15) notes that

research rejects the notion of a ‘vengeful victim’ and instead suggests that victims prioritise involvement in the

process rather than involvement in deciding the outcome (see also Hough and Mayhew, 1985: 35). This is particularly

important in a restorative context where the victim may be less likely to demand a punitive outcome after meeting

the offender face to face and learning more about them.

(v) Consent

The UN guidelines on the administration of restorative justice programs require that they "should be used only with

the free and voluntary consent of the parties" (United Nations, 2000). Indeed, many restorative schemes require that

the offender fully consents to taking part in the process. Theoretically, the young person’s decision should be an

informed one, with a full awareness of all the options available to him or her. In practice, given that the alternative is

often sentencing by a court, whose sanctions may be perceived as potentially more punitive, a young person may feel

there is no ‘choice’. Cuneen (2003: 189) asserts that ‘consent’ may be obtained in a context of no "independent legal

advice, pressures to admit an offence to obtain the benefit of a diversionary alternative to court and the avoidance of

a criminal record".

In New South Wales a small-scale qualitative study of young people’s experiences of the justice system questioned

whether informed consent was always exercised when referred to a conference. Two-thirds (66%) of participants were

either not told, or were unsure whether they had been told, that they had a right to legal advice (Turner, 2002). In

England and Wales, solicitors are explicitly excluded from acting in an advisory capacity in Youth Offender Panel

meetings. The rationale behind this is that the presence of a solicitor may prevent the young person from becoming

fully involved in the process; however Crawford and Newburn (2003: 223) note that this could potentially lead to

challenges under Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Warner highlights that, given the

complexity of the justice process, conferencing may not always be an appropriate forum to deal with questions of

culpability: "issues of guilt and innocence are not always black and white [...] the availability of legal defences such

as intoxication and self-defence may not be appreciated" (Warner, 1994: 143).

Review of the literature and research

24

(vi) Power imbalances

Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that a child should have the opportunity to be

heard in any proceedings affecting them and be allowed to express their views freely. Careful attention must be paid

by practitioners to ensure that this occurs in practice. Problems may be encountered in a conference scenario where

the ‘negotiation’ of a plan has the potential to be undemocratic. The young person may feel that they have no

leverage and are obligated to agree to suggestions put forward, regardless of their willingness or suitability. It is

submitted that the, “potential for coercion” must be considered given that the young person is in, “a room full of

adults”, (Haines and O’Mahony, (forthcoming, 2006). Maxwell and Morris (1993: 85) report that professionals often

held a substantial amount of leverage when devising plans and what they suggested was more likely to be the

outcome when parents and young people were given little opportunity to consider the plan. The recent research by

Maxwell et al (2004) finds that families and young people more often play a central role but observations continue to

show some co-ordinators, police officers and legal professionals dominating final decision-making, (Maxwell 2004:

172; Maxwell 2005: 59). Although New Zealand Legislation requires that family or whanau and young person be

offered the opportunity to consider matters in private this occurred in less than two-thirds of the cases examined,

(Maxwell 2004: 250). Unlike in earlier research, (Maxwell and Morris 1993), there was no evidence that failure to

avail of private time resulted from undue pressure to continue with the conference discussion, (Maxwell 2004: 250).

Nevertheless, parity in decision-making might be assisted where there exists space for private time and reflection. In

restorative pilots in Belgium, private time is a vital component for the identification of underlying issues by the young

person with the help of his or her family and friends, (Vanfraechem 2005: 279.). Indeed, it is believed that an

important ‘pathway to agreement’ is time and space in whatever its form, (Bazemore and Schiff, 2005: 173). In

considering the process of repairing harm in various conference environments, Bazemore and Schiff, (2005), found

that practitioners valued the process of agreement rather than the actual result but faced a practical challenge when

training facilitators to resist input when agreeing outcomes, (2005: 174 and 175). However, observations did show

that facilitator domination was not always down to power but emerged in response to participants’ requests for help.

In this event, a suitable response challenged the participants with exploratory or probing questions. A less effective

reaction occurred when facilitators encouraged the group to devise a routine list of outcomes, (2005: 175).

Power imbalances may arise from compulsion, however, Roche (2003: 86) argues that the possibility that a case

referred to a conference may be re-routed to court can act both as an incentive to participate and an ‘escape route’

where there is too much pressure or domination directed towards the offender. In this scenario, however, there is the

added danger that an offender is doubly penalised where a conference fails to reach an agreed outcome. The offender

may be "punished by the court for the failure of the conference as well as the offence" (Warner, 1994: 180). To

prevent this from happening courts must probe into why a conference failed to reach agreement and "be able to

discern a justifiable refusal to reach agreement from one without foundation" (Roche, 2003: 86).

(vii) Recidivism

It is suggested that preventing offending is not a primary claim of restorative justice, but instead it aims to hold

offenders accountable and make amends to victims (Daly, 2002). However, in order for it to gain centrality to the

criminal justice system and to be taken seriously by policy makers proving more effective than established practices

in preventing reoffending is paramount. The ability of restorative justice to address repeat offending has been

described by some as "modest, if not inconsequential" (Levrant, Cullen et. al, 2003: 420). A number of studies have

examined the impact of conferencing on future offending. An evaluation of recidivism in a police-led conferencing

scheme in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania could not confirm that recidivism was reduced as a direct result of conferencing.

Instead, it was suggested that "lower recidivism was more a function of offender’s choice to participate than the

effects of the conferencing" (McCold and Watchel, 1998: 4). In the Canberra ‘RISE’ project recidivism patterns were

assessed over a one year period and it was found that, when compared to court, conferences resulted in a 38% drop

in offending rates amongst violent offenders. At the same time, there was found to be no difference for property

offenders and shoplifters, and a very slight increase in reoffending (4%) amongst drink driving offenders. In New

Zealand, Maxwell and Morris examined reconviction rates amongst 195 offenders who participated in a family group

conference from 1990-1991. Six years later, between 1996 and 1997, 67% of the sample was re-interviewed to

assess levels of reconviction. Results indicated that "more than two fifths of a sample of young people were not

reconvicted or convicted once only and not much more than one-quarter were classified as being persistently

reconvicted" (Maxwell and Morris, 2002: 143). Based on this evidence, the authors suggested that "restorative

processes and practices can impact on reconviction" (Maxwell and Morris, 2002: 144). Further evaluation on

restorative cautioning within the Thames Valley project in England finds no evidence to support the contention that

Review of the literature and research

25

restorative justice is more effective than traditional measures in reducing recidivism, (Wilcox, et al, 2004). However, a

recent meta-analysis of restorative justice literature shows restorative justice processes to be significantly more

effective than traditional court measures, however, the authors note that the results are due mostly to a self-selection

bias, that is, restorative justice participants have consented to participate in a conference suggesting a resolve to

accept responsibility for their actions, (Latimer et al, 2005). Research in New Zealand found life events, both pre and

post conference, to be highly predictive of reoffending but so to was the level of involvement in the criminal justice

system, (Maxwell et al 2004; Maxwell, 2005). While certain conference features impacted positively on recidivism

adolescent and adult life circumstances remained highly determinative.

Significantly, research indicates that where certain restorative aspects are achieved a conference may have a greater

impact on preventing re-offending. These were identified as a successful family group conference, a completed plan,

and the feeling of ‘remorse’ from the young person. The attendance of a victim, the young person apologising,

feeling involved in the process, not feeling shamed and agreeing to the outcome further contributed to the young

person not being reconvicted (Maxwell and Morris, 1999). Hayes and Daly analysed levels of recidivism in the SAJJ

scheme and produced similar findings: the offender was less likely to re-offend where they took responsibility for the

offence, were actively involved in the process and were not defiant (Hayes and Daly, 2003). This would appear to

validate Braithwaite’s (1988) theory of reintegrative shaming which suggests that positive shaming is more likely to

prevent reoffending. However, analysis by the same authors of data from a conferencing pilot in Queensland shows

that individual conference features are not significantly related to reoffending and that a more likely determinant is

the characteristics of the young person. Therefore, Hayes and Daly found age and offence history to be significant.

There was evidence that younger offenders aged 10 to 12 years are less likely to reoffend where their first offence is

dealt with by conference rather through traditional caution or court appearance, (Hayes and Daly, 2004: 181). A

reanalysis by Hayes of the data from the Bethlehem, (Pennsylvania) Restorative Policing Experiment shows variation

in outcome if restorative processes are compared to court, (Hayes, 2005). Therefore, while no differences were

recorded for property offenders following either form of intervention, violent offenders assigned to conference had a

lower reoffending rate compared to violent offenders at court, (2005: 91). An examination of offender characteristics

on reoffending between conference and court indicated that females attending conference are less likely to reoffend

than males attending conference but no significant difference in gender for those attending court, (2005: 94).

Ultimately, it is difficult to determine the overall effectiveness of restorative programs in preventing re-offending due

to differences in practice and research. Arguably, curbing recidivism should not be the only measure of success and

the benefits gained in other areas may be just as important, (see for instance Lawson et al, 2004: 186). McEvoy et al.

(2002: 469) suggest that as evaluations have indicated greater participant satisfaction in restorative programs than in

the conventional justice process, success should primarily be measured by participant satisfaction. An important

factor when analysing recidivism is the proposition that much young offending is transitory, and that many young

people cease offending as they mature (Rutherford, 1992). Finally, it is important to appreciate that "great faith is

placed on the conference process to change offenders, when the conditions of their day to day lives which may be

conducive to getting into trouble, may not change at all" (Daly, 2003:230; see also Maxwell et al, 2004 and Maxwell,

2005).

Review of the literature and research

26

1.5 Conclusion

This review has examined both the philosophies underpinning restorative justice and the operation of restorative

programs in practice. In doing so, it has sought to alert the reader to the overarching issues facing practitioners. By

examining how restorative justice operates elsewhere, it has placed the Northern Ireland model within an

international context that has witnessed significant growth in the use of restorative practices as a response to

offending.

Overall, the research and literature on restorative justice suggests that it often proves to be a more satisfying

experience than the conventional criminal justice process for both victim and offender. This is a clear advantage given

the sustained criticism directed towards the conventional criminal justice system in recent years. However, it is

important to appreciate that participant satisfaction is not universal and the restorative ‘ideal’ will not always be met

in practice. Evaluations have found that restorative programs are not intrinsically suitable for all types of victims – for

example, victims of violent, interpersonal crimes often have lower levels of satisfaction than victims of property

crimes28.

Victim participation is often said to be instrumental in determining how ‘restorative’ a program is (McCold, 2000).

Research shows that some jurisdictions have experienced particularly low levels of victim participation. Increased

participation can often be facilitated through better practice, such as ensuring that the victim is notified and arranging

a conference at a time suitable to them. However, it is clear that a balance must be struck between safeguarding a

victim’s right not to participate whilst ensuring that the ‘restorativeness’ of the intervention is maintained.

Furthermore, it is important that victims who decline to participate are not marginalised and, if requested, they are

kept informed as to the outcome of their case. This, it is suggested, will prevent a ‘two-tier’ system in which victims

who choose to participate in restorative programs have a more positive experience than those who do not (Hoyle,

2002).

Proponents of restorative justice often state that a key advantage of restorative interventions is that it reduces

reoffending. Evaluations have proved inconclusive in this respect, however it is suggested that restorative

interventions can impact on recidivism where a number of factors are achieved (Maxwell and Morris, 2002). These

include where the conference is a positive experience for the offender, they are not negatively shamed and they

believe procedural justice to have taken place.

International research underscores a number of key rights issues that practitioners must be alert to when

implementing restorative interventions. These include net-widening, consent and proportionality of outcomes. The

literature suggests that to ensure that participant rights are protected restorative interventions should operate within a

culture of accountability in which effective gate-keeping procedures are implemented. This is particularly important

in Northern Ireland as the youth conferencing model operates within a ‘rights’ framework underpinned by the Human

Rights Act (1998).

With an awareness of how restorative justice - and in particular conferencing models - have been implemented in

other jurisdictions this report will proceed to examine how the youth conferencing service is operating in Northern

Ireland.

28 This may be equally true of victims of violent and interpersonal crimes where the case is dealt with through the court process.

Chapter 2

Methodology

Methodology

29

2.1 Aim of the research

The overall aim of the research is that of evaluating the youth conferencing service operating in both the Greater

Belfast and Fermanagh / Tyrone regions of Northern Ireland29. Funded by the Northern Ireland Office, the research

seeks to examine the translation of the service into practice, identifying both strengths and weaknesses of the current

system and determining to what extent it is proving effective in meeting its stated objectives and anticipated

outcomes. Recommendation 147 of the Criminal Justice Review Implementation Plan (2003) sets out some of these

objectives and anticipated outcomes:

We recommend that a Northern Ireland system should focus on:

reparative justice and meeting the needs of victims, so giving them a real place in the youth

conference, rather than just regarding it as a means to reform the offender;

rehabilitative justice, where what is important is the prevention of re-offending by the young

person, so that the youth conference focuses on offending behaviour

proportionality, rather than pure retributive justice

reintegrative shaming, where the offender acknowledges the harm done, but where the youth

conference clearly separates the offender from the offence and focuses on the potential for

reintegrating the offender into the community in the plan and on the prevention of re-offending

repairing relationships which have been damaged or broken by crime

devolving power to youth conference participants to create the youth conference and the plan, but

requiring subsequent approval for the plan from the court for cases which have gone to court

encouraging victims to bring one or more supporters (who might be, but need not necessarily be, a

member of Victim Support)

encouraging offenders to bring significant others (especially their families, but also particular

members of the community important to them) to the youth conference, but not placing strong

emphasis on the responsibility of the family to deal with offending as is done in New Zealand

2.2 Data collection techniques

The primary research methods used within the evaluation, in the context of data-triangulation, are those of

observation, structured and semi-structured interviewing and statistical analysis of relevant data.

Observations took place with respect to both youth conferences and relevant court proceedings in Belfast and

Fermanagh and Tyrone youth courts, with every attempt made to be as unobtrusive as possible. Structured interviews

were completed with participating victims and young people, whilst semi-structured interviews were employed with

victim and offender non-participants and other key stakeholders. In addition, short interviews were conducted with a

small number of family members who had participated in a youth conference in support of the young person. Finally,

researchers interviewed several young people who have had contact with the youth justice system but who reside

outside the area eligible for youth conferencing. Researchers made written notes in interviews, and no recording

equipment was used. A statistical analysis was undertaken between all cases appearing before the youth court in the

year prior to the introduction of the youth conferencing and those appearing post-introduction of youth conferencing.

This was used as a comparative sample in order to understand more fully the impact of youth conferencing upon

cases appearing before the court.

Observations

Conference observations

Detailed observations of youth conference proceedings formed a central element of the research. Attending

conferences in a non-participative role, researchers positioned themselves outside the circle of participants, taking

care to physically distance themselves whilst ensuring a clear view of the young person and, if possible, the victim.

Researchers focused on, amongst other things, the conference process, levels of participant engagement, group

29 The Youth Conferencing Service began in Greater Belfast in December 2003 and Fermanagh and Tyrone in April 2004. At the time of writing

(October 2005) it is also operating in Banbridge, Newry and Armagh.

Methodology

30

dynamics, adherence to practice guidelines and conference outcomes. Detailed notes were made throughout the

conference in a discrete and sensitive manner and these were subsequently transferred into a standardised

observation schedule.

Researchers observed a total of 185 conferences, 167 of which were in the Greater Belfast area and 18 in the

Fermanagh and Tyrone region. Consent was always sought from the victim and the young person via the co-ordinator

with respect to researcher presence at the conference. In the vast majority of cases consent was obtained via coordinators

in pre-conference meetings with the victim and young person. In a few cases consent was not obtained

until the day of the conference however no observation proceeded without the consent of victim and young person.

Court observations

Having obtained consent from the relevant Magistrate(s), court observations took place in Belfast, Enniskillen,

Dungannon, Strabane and Omagh youth courts throughout the period of the research. Researchers positioned

themselves at the back of the courtroom in order to observe and take notes on the relevant proceedings. These

observations were qualitative in nature, focusing both on initial court-ordered referrals to the Youth Conference

Service and the making or refusal of youth conference orders by the court. Particular attention was paid to the role of

Magistrate, Public Prosecution Service, Youth Conference Service, young people and their appropriate adult and legal

representatives. Researchers also noted the degree to which legislative requirements were fulfilled30. Observations

served not only as an insight into the decision making processes of the court, but also as a useful contextualisation of

court-ordered conferences.

Interviews

Participant interviews

Following each conference observed, researchers completed individual interviews with the young person and / or the

victim(s) (see Appendices 1 and 3). In most cases, consent was obtained via the co-ordinator prior to the conference,

however, before commencing the interview consent was reaffirmed with each participant. This was done in a clear

and straightforward manner covering issues such as the voluntary nature and purpose of the interview, confidentiality,

anonymity and anticipated use of data. In addition, participants were given the opportunity to ask questions or seek

clarification from the researcher.

In total, interviews were completed with 171 young people (92%) and 125 victims (86%) following the conference.

Out of the 171 young people interviewed, 137 completed a full interview. The remainder completed an abridged

interview schedule (see Appendix 2). In these instances a shorter interview was administered due to time constraints,

the young person’s preference, or where the researcher felt that a shorter interview would be more appropriate.

Participant interviews lasted an average of 10-15 minutes, with abridged interviews lasting approximately 5 minutes.

For reasons of confidentiality and freedom of expression, all interviews took place in a private room with only the

researcher and interviewee present, unless the presence of another individual was requested and consented to. This

was typically the young person’s or victim’s supporter. Finally, a small number of telephone interviews (5) were

conducted with family members who had attended a conference in the role of the young person’s supporter. These

focused on family member’s views of the process and the progress of the young person following the conference.

Non-participant interviews

Interviews were also completed with a number of young people and victims who chose not to participate in a

conference. These took the form of a semi-structured telephone interview, exploring individuals' reasons for not

attending and their thoughts on both the conferencing process and how their case was dealt with in the criminal

justice system (see Appendices 4 and 5). Interviews were carried out with eleven non-participating victims and eight

non-participating young people.

Stakeholder interviews

Stakeholders were identified as both individuals with a direct interest in the administration of Youth Conferencing -

for instance youth conference staff, Public Prosecution Service, Magistrates, police (Youth Diversion Officers) and the

Northern Ireland Office - and those with a more general interest in the development of restorative justice in Northern

Ireland - for example service providers31 and members of the legal profession. These interviews were exploratory in

30 As set out in the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 and the Youth Conference Rules (Northern Ireland) 2003.

31 Organisations providing services for elements of a youth conference plan, for example mentoring schemes.

Methodology

31

nature and focused on pertinent themes which were either identified or emerged throughout the period of the

research. The majority of stakeholder interviews took place in two phases, the first in September – November 2004,

the second in the same period of the subsequent year. This enabled developing perspectives to be identified as the

implementation of the conferencing process progressed.

2.3 Comparative analysis

It was intended to complete a comparative analysis in order to shed light on the impact of the conferencing process

on the business of the youth court. This involved gathering quantitative information, including offence type, criminal

record history and disposal type. This element of the research was intended to compare the criminal record histories

of young people appearing before the youth court in the year preceding the introduction of the youth conference

system (1st June 2002 – 31st May 2003) to those receiving diversionary and court-ordered conferences in the

subsequent year (1st March 2004 – 30th June 2005). However, due to data problems and issues relating to criminal

record data, the information was not used in this analysis.

Finally, a small qualitative element of comparative analysis was completed. This involved undertaking semi-structured

interviews with young people residing outside areas eligible for youth conferencing who had recently come into

contact with the youth justice system. Interviews sought to gain insight into young people’s perceptions of the

traditional criminal justice system. An equivalent qualitative study was not undertaken with victims due to difficulties

in access32, however in order to provide a comparative victim perspective this report draws upon current research on

victim’s experiences of the traditional criminal justice system.

2.4 Data analysis

Prior to commencing fieldwork, researchers created substantial SPSS and Access databases in which to record

gathered information for subsequent analysis. All quantitative data was entered into SPSS and analysed in terms of

frequencies and cross-tabulations. Qualitative data from observations and participant interviews were referenced and

organised according to case, participant and theme and then entered into Access. Data from court observations, nonparticipant

interviews and interviews with other key stakeholders were qualitative and was therefore analysed in this

way. Information from the Youth Conference Service and the Northern Ireland Court Service databases was used to

cross-reference and verify primary data.

32 The research team did not have access to contact information for victims of youth crime in non-pilot areas due to data protection issues.

Chapter 3

The referral

process

35

The referral process

3.1 Introduction

Young people can be referred to the Youth Conference Service in one of two ways, a ‘diversionary’ referral through

the Public Prosecution Service or a court-ordered referral by a Magistrate at the youth court. In each case, there exist

certain legislative requirements which must be fulfilled before a referral can be made. This chapter will consider the

referral process in light of the legislative provisions and from information gathered over the period of the research.

3.2 Summary of findings

362 referrals were received by the Youth Conference Service within the period of research. 31%

emanated from the PPS and 69% from court.

A range of offences were referred. The majority or 53% related to intermediate offences against

person or property. Serious offences accounted for 23% and minor matters for 21% of referrals.

The majority or 89% of young people referred for a diversionary conference had no previous

offences for which they were sentenced. The remainder had one (7%) or two (5%) previous

sentences. 44% of those referred by court had no previous sentences, 20% had one and 15% had

two. The remainder had three (10%) and four or more (11%) previous offences for which they were

sentenced.

There was a high rate of acceptance by young people of diversionary referrals, with 68% of young

people offered diversionary referrals accepting them.

Similarly, the majority of young people offered a conference at the youth courts (56%) accepted

and were referred to the Youth Conference Service.

On the whole, Magistrates offered referral to a conference in those cases deemed suitable by the

legislation.

The formality and established practice of the youth court suggested that, by the end of the research,

some concerns remained about the manner in which courts requested consent to attend a

conference.

3.3 Referral to the Youth Conferencing Service

A total of 362 referrals were received by the Youth Conference Service in the period covered by this report (1st

December 2003 – 30th June 2005). Just under one third (31%) of these referrals emanated from the Public

Prosecution Service, whilst the remaining 69% were referred by the youth courts.

Figure 3.1: Referral to a youth conference by referral source

The referral process

36

When broken down into region, there is virtually no difference in the proportion of referrals made by the Public

Prosecution Service and court. In Greater Belfast 30% of referrals were diversionary and 70% court-ordered; in

Fermanagh and Tyrone the split was 31% and 69% respectively (see Table 3.1).

Table 3.1: Referral to a youth conference by region and referral source

Referrals to the Youth Conferencing Service were made for the offences of theft (26%), assault (21.1%), criminal

damage (17.5%) and disorderly behaviour (10.8%).

Figure 3.2: Referral to a youth conference by offence category

An offence seriousness scale was devised to examine the seriousness of offences referred to youth conferencing33.

When these referrals are analysed according to the offence seriousness scale included in Appendix 6, the majority of

offences (53.2%) referred related to ‘intermediate offences against person and property’. ‘Serious offences against

person and property’ accounted for 23.4% of referrals whilst ‘minor property related and other minor offences’

accounted for only 20.5% of referrals. Interestingly, the majority of ‘minor property related and other minor offences’

were referred to the Youth Conference Service by the court (71.4%) and not the Public Prosecution Service (28.6%) as

might be expected. Only ten offences were classified as ‘very serious violent offences and serious harm to the person’

were referred to youth conferencing, six of which were referred by the PPS and four by the court. Given that quite

serious offences are sometimes referred to a conference by the PPS, it would appear that the category of the offence

is not the only factor that is taken into account when prosecuting, for example, whether it is the young person’s first

offence.

Indeed, an analysis of the criminal records of young people referred for a diversionary conference shows that the

majority or 89% had no previous offences for which they were sentenced (see Table 3.2). The smaller proportion (5%)

of cases showing two previous sentences were most probably referred for a diversionary conference because of the

facts of the offence or that there had been a significant lapse in time since the last previous conviction.

Diversionary Court-ordered Total

Number % Number % Number %

Greater Belfast 78 30 186 70 264 100

Fermanagh and Tyrone 27 31 61 69 88 100

33 See Appendix 6 for a detailed explanation of how this was devised, and the categorisation of offences.

The referral process

37

Table 3.2: Number of previous sentences for young people by source of referral

As expected, the figures for court-ordered conferences differed from those appearing for diversionary conferences.

Therefore, while the majority (64%) had between none and one previous sentence and 15% had two, a significant

proportion (21%) had a record of three or more sentences. These figures show that diversionary and court-ordered

referrals appeared to be targeted correctly, as diversionary conferences are intended for young people with little

previous contact with the criminal justice system. Indeed, the higher level of previous sentences for young people

attending conference from court explains why some less serious matters were referred to the Youth Conference

Service via court.

3.4 Diversionary referrals

Youth conferencing introduces a new and additional role for the recently established Public Prosecution Service (PPS)

in Northern Ireland. Whereas the function of the previous Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had been to

make decisions on whether or not to prosecute, Section 58, 10A (1) of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002

requires the PPS to determine prosecution decisions and to decide if referral to a youth conference is appropriate.

Although the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 does not include guidance on the types of cases that might be

suitable for a diversionary conference it was anticipated that conferencing will constitute an option for many young

people recommended for prosecution.

In all instances, the PPS must establish that the case is suitable for prosecution. This requires sufficient evidence to

give a reasonable prospect of conviction in court and a determination that it is in the public interest to prosecute.

Once this has been confirmed, the PPS have a number of options including referral back to the Police Service of

Northern Ireland (PSNI) for a less formal restorative caution or an informed warning; or to offer to the young person a

diversionary youth conference or to proceed to court. Publicly available guidelines are not yet available for this

decision-making process but decisions are based on a combination of factors including the nature of the offence and

any history of offending by the young person.

There is a two-staged legislative obligation that exists prior to referring a young person to a youth conference.

Therefore, the PPS must be satisfied that the young person accepts responsibility for the offence and that he/she

consents to attend the conference34. Consent and responsibility are vital given that the practical implication is an

agreement to forego the court process and the right to trial. If it is agreed to offer referral to a diversionary conference

a letter is forwarded to the young person and a copy to his or her legal guardian. This letter outlines the nature of the

conference and what is required in order for the young person to attend. In order to proceed, the PPS must receive

within a specified time period two signed consent forms, one from the young person and the other from the parent or

guardian. Statistics available over the period of the evaluation indicate a high level of acceptance by young people

with 68% of diversionary referrals accepted in the Greater Belfast area and 67% in Fermanagh and Tyrone35.

34 Section 58, 10A (3)(a) Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002.

35 These statistics were made available to the research team by the Public Prosecution Service.

Number of Previous Sentences

%

0 1 2 3 4 5

Diversionary Referrals 89 7 5 0 0 0

Court Referrals 44 20 15 10 5 6

The referral process

38

Table 3.3 Acceptance of diversionary referrals by region

Once a diversionary referral is accepted the case is forwarded to the Youth Conference Service who is obliged to

report the outcome of the conference to the PPS within a time period of 30 days36. It is at this point that the PPS must

decide to accept or reject the diversionary youth conference plan, a process which is explored in detail in Chapter 5.

3.5 Court-ordered referrals

Prior to examining the way in which the court refers young people to the Youth Conference Service, it is useful to

consider some of the legislative requirements that must be adhered to when making a referral. The two overriding

prerequisites are that of guilt and consent. With regard to the former, Section 59, 33A (1) of the Justice (Northern

Ireland) Act 2002 states that:

“A court must refer the case of a child who has been found guilty of an offence by or before the

court to a youth conference co-ordinator for him to convene a court-ordered youth conference

with respect to the child and the offence”.

Referral to a youth conference is therefore mandatory where guilt has been admitted or established. There are,

however, certain caveats: the court is not required to refer a young person to youth conferencing on the following

three occasions:

1. Where a diversionary youth conference has been completed for the offence and the youth

conference co-ordinator recommended that they be subjected to a youth conference plan;

2. If the court proposes to deal with the young person for the offence by making an order discharging

him absolutely or conditionally;

3. If the offence carries a penalty of life imprisonment; if it is triable, in the case of an adult, on

indictment only; or is a scheduled offence falling under the Terrorism Act 2000.

With regard to the latter, the court may, where it considers it appropriate, refer a young person to a youth conference

for offences triable, in the case of an adult, on indictment only or scheduled offences falling under the Terrorism Act

2000. It may not, however, do so for offences with a penalty of life imprisonment. Furthermore, the court cannot at

present refer a young person to youth conferencing unless they reside in the pilot area and the offence occurred post

1st December 200337.

Where offence eligibility has been established, Section 59, 33A (6) of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002

highlights the importance of consent and requires that a conference must not proceed “unless the child agrees that he

will participate in a court-ordered youth conference with respect to the offence”. The court is required to exercise

transparency in its decisions and if it fails to refer a young person to a youth conference it is required by Section 59,

33C (4)(b) to:

Give its reasons in open court; and

If it is a Magistrates' court, it must cause the reason to be entered in to the Order Book.

The introduction of youth conferencing marks many new changes within court, not least of which is a new presence

in the form of the Youth Conference Service. Typically, there are at least two representatives from the Youth

Conference Service in attendance at each sitting whose primary role is to receive referrals from the court. When a

referral has been made, a representative from the Youth Conference Service speaks to the young person outside the

36 Rule 7(1) The YouthConference Rules (Northern Ireland) 2003.

37 For the purposes of the research the pilot area covered Greater Belfast and, from April 2004, the Fermanagh and Tyrone regions. However, at the

time of writing the area has been extended to include other regions within Northern Ireland.

Number of

Acceptances

Acceptance Rate

%

Greater Belfast 86 68

Fermanagh and Tyrone 33 67

Overall 119 68

The referral process

39

courtroom, ensuring they understand what they have agreed to and providing any further information and advice

required. They also explain what will happen next and ensure receipt of the young person's details from the court so

they can pass them on to the designated youth conference co-ordinator.

Observations of youth court sittings in both Greater Belfast and Fermanagh and Tyrone showed that the introduction

of conferencing was received and progressed well. On the whole, Magistrates offered referral to a youth conference

in those cases deemed suitable by the legislation. Overall, the majority of young people offered a conference at court

(56%) accepted and were referred to the Youth Conference Service. When broken down into region, 49% of young

people offered a conference in Belfast accepted, whilst 95% of young people offered a conference in Fermanagh and

Tyrone accepted. In most cases, young people were not referred to a youth conference by the court because they

refused consent (49%) or consent was refused by their legal representative (7%). Other reasons for non-referral

include that the Magistrate adjourned the young person’s case for a pre-sentence report (6%) and that the young

person was given an absolute or conditional discharge (6%).

While results were positive overall a number of issues did arise and observations suggest that these fall into one of

three categories. The first relates to initial or ‘teething’ problems that have been mostly resolved, the second to certain

technical matters not referred to in the legislation and the third to a concern about the nature of referrals, which was

evident throughout the research.

In terms of early concerns, difficulties arose due to a number of administrative and technical issues including:

Uncertainty regarding the boundaries of the pilot area covered by youth conferencing and

eligibility in terms of time limits, the offence needing to have taken place on or after December

2003;

Inaccurate referrals including referral of a number of cases where the court later imposed a

conditional discharge (as noted above, the legislation advises against referral where the court is

minded to impose an absolute or conditional discharge);

A lack of familiarity with the Youth Conference Service and the new professional role in the youth

court.

For the most part these issues were remedied and improvement was observed over the duration of the research. The

language used within the court was observed to develop over time. Therefore, though the Youth Conference Service

was referred to as the ‘Youth Justice Agency’ and conference staff as ‘social workers’ such matters were resolved with

terms such as ‘co-ordinator’ becoming part of the routine terminology of the court room. Misunderstanding over

eligibility for referral was also related to experience and residence requirements did become more established as

implementation of the youth conference rollout progressed. Legal representatives and other staff were also observed

to experience a progressive learning process. In an early observation, the Youth Conference Service indicated to the

court that referral was inappropriate because the young person resided outside the pilot area. The legal representative

stated that he thought the young person was eligible because the offence took place in Belfast. The Youth Conference

Service pointed out that the young person had to “reside or appear to reside in the pilot area”. On the whole

therefore, initial problems were of limited concern and related to practical implementation and improvement of the

process over time.

While the courts responded positively to initial concerns, certain technical issues remained. This included a small

number of instances where the conference plan was not accepted because the young person had turned 17 years of

age between the conference taking place and the return of the plan to court. In general, where a young person

reaches the age of 17 years before the conclusion of youth court proceedings, section 30 of The Criminal Justice

(Children) (NI) Order 1998 permits the court to make any order which it would have made had they remained under

1738,

Where any proceedings in respect of a child are commenced before a youth court and he attains

the age of 17 before the conclusion of the proceedings, the court may continue to deal with the

case and make any order which it would have made if he had not attained that age.

38 At present , for the purposes of youth court proceedings, a ‘child’ is defined as a person who is under 17. However, this will change to 18 years,

once 17 year olds are brought within the remit of the youth court (see section 63 and Schedule 11 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002, which

makes provision for the introduction of 17 year olds into the jurisdiction of the youth court).

39 See recommendation 1.

40 Section 60, 361(9) of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 states that the court may impose a custodial order with the youth conference order

but only if this is recommended by the Youth Conference Co-ordinator following the conference and if the young person consents.

41 See recommendation 1.

42 Section 63 and Schedule 11 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 makes provision for the extension of the Youth Justice System to 17 year

olds.

43 See Lyness, D, Campbell, P and Jamison C (2005) A Commentary on Northern Ireland Crime Statistics 2004, Northern Ireland Statistics and

Research Agency, p.41, Table 4.10 ‘Persons found guilty (all courts) by age and gender 2003 aand rates per 10,000 population’.

44 See recommendation 1.

The referral process

40

Therefore, it is permissible for the court to reject a youth conference order for those aged 17 but it is not a required

response. Given that refusal is possible in these circumstances it may be a factor for the court and all interested

parties to consider at the time of initial referral39. A further issue emerged in relation to offences attracting a

mandatory sentence. The legislation prohibits a second court order in combination with a youth conference order.

Section 60, 36J (8) of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 provides40:

Where the court makes a youth conference order, it may not exercise any other power it has to deal

with the offender for the offence.

Thus, in certain instances (mostly driving offence cases) mandatory penalties meant that the young person had

completed a conference but the court could not accept the plan. This is illustrated by one case where the Magistrate

clearly stated, “We are not making a youth conference order because we are not at liberty to combine this order with

another order”. The Magistrate was obliged to issue a mandatory Disqualification Order in place of the agreed plan.

In this scenario, attendance at a conference by the young person should not necessarily be prohibited, as in two

cases the young person indicated a wish to continue with the conference process even though there would be no

conference plan. However, it may be useful for guidance to be issued that would assist the court where a mandatory

outcome is anticipated41. Certainly, guidance may prove useful in future months when 17 year olds are brought

within the remit of the youth court42. A high proportion of offences recorded for 17 year olds are motoring related

offences. The most recent Northern Ireland Crime Statistics (2005) show that for seventeen year olds, motoring

offences accounted for 234 or 31% out of a total of 754 offences for which they were found guilty in 2003. In

comparison, motoring offences accounted for only 94 or 11% of offences for those age ten to sixteen years found

guilty in all courts43. As such, the business of the youth court should experience a significant rise in the number of

motoring matters and hence offences attracting mandatory sentence.

Finally, a concern was observed in the context of Magistrates offering to young people the option of attending a

conference. On the one hand, observations were positive and showed that the process of offering a conference had

become assimilated into the standard dialogue of the court. On the other hand, this meant that there was little time to

explain to the young person the purpose and implications of a referral. Over the course of court observations it was

evident that Magistrates would seek consent but often delegate the process of explaining the conference to the

solicitor. One Magistrate was observed to have addressed the young person in the following terms:

“These are offences that fall under a new scheme called youth conferencing – your legal

representative will explain it all but basically it’s a way of trying to take you away from the normal

court process…won’t work unless you participate but I’m obliged to give you the option …if it was

successful it would be to your benefit. Are you willing to go down that route” Young person, “Aye”.

Magistrate, “Fair enough. I can’t expect you to give an informed decision without knowing all about

it”.

In other instances, consent was sought through the legal representative who was sometimes observed to explain the

consequences of attending a conference to the young person. There were however a few cases in which the

Magistrate did not seek consent. In these instances, the conference appeared to be compulsory. As an example, one

Magistrate stated, “youth conference then” in response to the summary of facts. Neither the Magistrate nor solicitor

explained to the young person the nature of the conference or the fact that referral was voluntary. This observation

should be considered in light of the fact that issues of consent are explored with the young person by a member of

the Youth Conference Service outside the court room. Therefore, there is an opportunity for the young person to

appreciate the implications of a conference and to clarify matters of consent. However, it seems important for

agreement to be established at the time of referral44. This is necessary for ethical and for practical reasons because if

the young person withdraws consent a significant time delay ensues before they can return to the youth court for

sentencing. Furthermore, it might be more challenging to withdraw consent than to refuse to offer it in the first place.

The referral process

41

3.6 Conclusion

The administration of PPS and court business as it related to the new youth conference provisions progressed

relatively smoothly throughout the period of evaluation. Overall, the profile of cases referred for diversionary and

court-ordered conferencing was as expected. While a number of serious matters proceeded by way of diversion and

less serious cases from the court, this can be attributed to additional factors including criminal record history, which

could mitigate or aggravate the response to the offence. By the end of the research, many of the start-up or ‘teething’

problems in the referral process had been largely addressed. There remained ongoing issues in relation to the level of

information provided to young people on referral to conferencing by the court. However, this may relate more to the

formal environment and an apparent lack of time available to the Magistrate due to the large number of cases

appearing in the youth courts.

Chapter 4

Preliminary

stages of the

conference

process

4.1 Introduction

This chapter provides an overview and analysis of the preliminary stages of the conference process following a

referral by the Public Prosecution Service or court. It focuses on the logistics involved in convening a conference,

including practicalities and location, the pre-conference preparation process and participant composition. It

concludes by considering the position of those victims and young people who decline to participate in a conference.

4.2 Summary of findings

The majority of referrals (75%) received by the Youth Conference Service successfully resulted in a

conference. Most diversionary and court-ordered conferences were completed within the required

timescale(s).

Most young people referred to a conference were male (86%) and aged 14-16 (77%). A significant

proportion of young people referred to a conference were in the care system, the majority of who

were referred by the court (88%).

When compared to similar schemes internationally, victim participation in conferences was high at

69%. Of these, 47% were victim representatives, 40% personal victims and 13% were

representatives attending where there was no identifiable victim. Most victims did not choose to

attend a conference with a supporter.

Both victims and young people rated their preparation prior to the conference highly. Most felt well

informed about the process and knew what to expect at a conference.

Young people said they attended conferences to ‘make up for what I had done’ (85%), to be

forgiven by the victim (79%) and to both help the victim (70%) and hear what they had to say

(70%).

For victims, the notion of punishment was secondary to meeting the young person and receiving an

explanation for their actions. A significant number of victims (79%) attended because they wanted

to help the young person.

Findings indicate that not all victims wish to come face to face with the young person at a youth

conference. A sample of non-participating victims were interviewed and of these, the majority

indicated personal reasons for non-attendance.

4.3 The convening of conferences

Of the referrals made, three quarters (75%) successfully resulted in a youth conference. Those referrals that did not

proceed to a youth conference (25%) were returned to the court or the PPS at either the request of the young person

or by the Youth Conference Service.

Figure 4.1: Referrals proceeding to a conference or returned to referral source

Preliminary stages of the conference process

45

Preliminary stages of the conference process

46

When broken down into referral type, diversionary referrals were more likely to result in a conference. A total of 90% of

diversionary referrals resulted in a conference, whilst 69% of court referrals did the same. This discrepancy may be

related to the young person’s understanding of what the conference process entails. As explained in Chapter 3, the

nature of referral to a diversionary conference allows the young person time to consider and make an informed decision

about whether or not to participate in a youth conference45. Observations found that the nature of court process does

not particularly lend itself well to such decision making. For example, after agreeing to a conference at court, several

young people subsequently withdrew their consent when informed of the nature of the conference process.

Out of all referrals that did not result in a conference, the majority (47 or 57%) were as a result of the young person

withdrawing their consent following their initial agreement to participate. Reasons given by young people for

withdrawing consent include not wanting to discuss the offence in a group environment, not wanting to meet the

victim, they subsequently denied committing the offence, that the offence was ‘victimless’ or that they were advised

against taking part by their solicitor. In all but five cases, in which the young person withdrew consent midconference,

consent was withdrawn prior to the conference taking place.

Most cases returned to the court or PPS by the Youth Conference Service were a result of the young person failing to

engage with the co-ordinator in the pre-conference preparation stage or being deemed ‘unsuitable’ to participate in

the conference. Other reasons for return include that the young person failed to turn up to conferences, the young

person did not accept responsibility for their actions and the young person was ineligible for conferencing by virtue

of the date of the offence or residing outside the pilot area.

The average length of time from the offence to referral was 120 working days46 (115 days for diversionary referrals

and 122 days for court referrals)47. Following the referral, an average of 21 days passed before the conference took

place (24 days for diversionary referrals and 19 days for court referrals). Article 7 of the Youth Conference Rules

(Northern Ireland) 2003 requires that all diversionary conferences are completed within 30 days of referral. Courtordered

conferences are expected to be returned to the court within 4 weeks of referral. As such, most conferences

were therefore successfully completed within the required timescales.

The majority of conferences convened (82%) took place during working hours (9am -5pm). Only 18% of conferences

took place in the evening. Conferences lasted an average of one hour, however the duration of conferences often

varied. The shortest conference - in which the young person withdrew consent during the conference - lasted a mere

6 minutes whilst the longest continued for 115 minutes. Only 8% of conferences lasted more than 90 minutes. Most

conferences appeared to last long enough to fully deal with the relevant issues and engage all participants, however

several participants commented that they felt the conference was “far too long”48. One victim representative stated

that they felt a break would have been appropriate in these circumstances;

“It would have been useful if a break took place. The conference was 1 hour and 15 minutes and

requires concentration. Having a break so the young person had the chance to think about what has

been said rather than running conference 1hr 15 minutes - an opportunity for talk and support.”

Conference facilities were rated in terms of heat, light, spaciousness, refreshments, audibility and visibility and in most

cases the overall facilities were good. Two thirds of conferences (66%) took place within the purpose-built Youth

Conference Service headquarters in Belfast. These facilities are very well equipped with private waiting areas, two

conference rooms, several ‘time out rooms’ for reflection, video-link facilities and an observation screen for victims

who are unwilling to meet the young person face to face. In the Fermanagh and Tyrone areas community venues or

Youth Justice Agency community premises were used to hold all observed conferences, as purpose-built premises in

which to hold conferences were not yet available. Occasionally, community venues were used in the Greater Belfast

region when it was more convenient for participants. Although often well equipped, the standard of these venues

varied with the most frequent problems including that the room was too small to facilitate all participants and / or there

were distracting noise levels. The issue of privacy and community venues was particularly apparent in one conference,

in which other young people at the venue recognised the young person and called out to him49. The young person’s

supporter was concerned that the location was too local, and that the young person would be subject to “20 questions

in school tomorrow.”

45 Conversely, it could be argued that faced with the prospect of a court appearance and possible criminal conviction young people referred to a

diversionary conference are more reluctant to withdraw consent.

46 All time periods are measured in working days throughout this report.

47 See Recommendation 4.

48 See Recommendation 5.

49 See Recommendation 6.

Preliminary stages of the conference process

47

Six conferences took place in the Juvenile Justice Centre50, two of which the victim attended remotely via video-link.

Only one victim chose to use the one-way observation mirror in the YCS headquarters. The victim knew the young

person, but indicated that they felt more comfortable not meeting them face to face. Another co-ordinator sat with the

victim in the observation room as support, and an empty seat was left in front of observation screen to allow a full

view of all participants. Despite the inherent difficulties in encouraging dialogue in this manner, this victim’s

participation was facilitated well. The presence of a mirror did however pose problems in a few other conferences, as a

number of young people expressed concerns and / or agitation regarding it; “Is there someone in there watching us?”;

“There is someone in there. I know there is. Yous are recording this!” Prior to the conference, several co-ordinators

were observed to reassure the young person by bringing them into the room to confirm that they were not being

observed. Given such concerns, it might be prudent to install a blind or curtain over the large observation screen51.

Though conferences generally did not start on time (63%), the average delay of 17 minutes was quite short. Only a

minority of conferences (18%) were delayed for more than 30 minutes. Delays were typically caused by one or more

of the participants failing to arrive on time. Where the conference was delayed, most victims (83%) and young people

(80%) were kept informed, however 17% of victims and 20% of young people were not told why there was a delay.

4.4 Conference participants

Section 57, 3A (2) of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 requires that a co-ordinator, young person, appropriate

adult and police officer must be in attendance for a conference to proceed. As such, these participants were present

at all conferences. The victim is entitled, but not obliged, to attend the conference. Where appropriate, the victim and

young person may bring along a supporter or supporters. The legislation permits the young person to attend with a

legal representative however their role is limited to participating in an advisory capacity. If the co-ordinator considers

it would be of benefit, other relevant parties may also be invited to attend. Such persons may include, for example,

an Education Welfare Officer if the young person is experiencing difficulties at school.

Table 4.1: Age and gender of young people referred to a conference

As illustrated in Table 4.1 above, the vast majority of young people referred to a conference were male (86%) and

aged between fourteen and sixteen (77%). Only two young people were aged ten – the lower limit of age eligibility –

and both these conferences were diversionary. Most young people (58%) were living in their parental home or with a

step parent at the time of the conference; however a surprisingly high proportion (29%) of young people who

participated in a conference were residing in a children’s home or a care environment. When broken down into

referral type, the majority (88%) of young people in care were referred by the court whilst only 12% were referred

through the diversionary route. This is perhaps because many may have had previous convictions. These figures differ

noticeably from young people living with parent(s) or step parent(s), 50% of whom were referred by the court and

50% by the PPS.

Number of

Males

Number of

Females

Ten 2 0

Eleven 7 3

Twelve 14 2

Thirteen 50 2

Fourteen 73 12

Fifteen 87 21

Sixteen 73 11

Seventeen 1 0

Total 307 51

Total percentage 86 14

50 The Juvenile Justice Centre (JJC) provides secure accommodation for 10-16 year olds remanded or sentenced to custody0.

51 See Recommendation 7.

Preliminary stages of the conference process

48

On most occasions, the young person’s appropriate adult was female (77%). The young person’s mother fulfilled this

role in most conferences (57%), followed by their social worker, key worker, or staff from care home (21%), their

father (9%), extended family member (4%) or sibling (3%). Other appropriate adults included a mentor, probation

worker or friend. In 113 (61%) conferences the young person attended with a second supporter, a third supporter in

31 conferences (17%), a fourth in six conferences (3%) and a fifth supporter in one conference. Additional supporters

included the young person’s social worker (20%), father (18%) and mother (9%). Other extended family, the young

person’s teacher, probation worker and youth justice worker were all present in 7% of conferences with an additional

supporter. Most young people did not avail of the opportunity to attend with a legal representative, who was only

present in twenty eight (15%) conferences.

A victim was present in just over two-thirds (69%) of conferences observed. When compared to similar schemes in

operation internationally, this high level of victim participation is a positive result52. Victim attendance in the Greater

Belfast region was generally higher (71%) than in Fermanagh and Tyrone (47%). Two thirds (66%) of participating

victims were male, and one third female (34%) Although most victims (62%) were aged 30-50, a significant

proportion were under the age of 18 (17%)53. As illustrated in Table 4.2 below, the majority of participating victims

were victim representatives (60%), rather than personal victims (40%).

Table 4.2: Victim attendees by victim type

Personal victims’ are defined as those individually affected by the offence who have experienced either direct or

indirect contact with the young person. Victim representatives were not directly affected by the offence, but instead

attended to explain the general impact of the young person’s actions. Victim representatives included employees of

the business affected by the offence. For example, in the case of shoplifting, the manager of the store may attend to

explain the financial impact or impact on staff morale.

When broken down into offence type, the majority of participating personal victims (47%) were victims of assault,

whilst most victim representatives attended conferences relating to offences of theft (39%) or criminal damage (30%).

A further distinct category of victim representatives were those who attended conferences with no identifiable victim

(13%). Such offences include disorderly behaviour, driving offences and drug-related offences. In these cases

community representatives, police officers or relatives attended to explain the general impact of the offence.

Most victims did not attend a conference with a supporter. A total of seventeen victims (14%) brought one or more

supporters with them to the conference, and all but one were personal victims. Six of these victims attended with a

second supporter. All but one of these supporters was a family member, with the remaining supporter a member of

staff from the victim's care home. Of the victim supporters, 61% were female and 39% male. Interestingly, the

overwhelming majority of victim supporters were a member of the victim’s family and attending conferences

involving a personal victim less than eighteen years of age. Given the age, potential vulnerability and inter-personal

nature of the offences involved, these can perhaps be seen as cases in which the presence of a victim supporter is

most vital. No victims attended a conference with a legal representative.

52 Though direct comparisons are difficult due to the differing nature and operation of programmes, only 13% of victims took part in Youth Offender

Panel meetings in England and Wales (Crawford and Newburn, 2003), while between 41% and 50% of family group conferences in New Zealand

were attended by a victim (Maxwell and Morris, 2002; Maxwell et al, 2004).

53 The presence of young victims may pose additional challenges for the co-ordinator with regards to, for example, rights issues, understanding and

consent, interaction, and participant domination.

Victim Type Percentage

Personal Victim 40

Victim Representative 47

‘Victimless crime’ (representative attends) 13

Preliminary stages of the conference process

49

4.5 Preparation for the conference

Prior to the conference itself, the co-ordinator will meet with the young person and victim in order to prepare them

for the conference. On first meeting the young person, the co-ordinator will listen to their perspective, establish their

readiness to engage and, after confirming that they still consent to participate, will begin preparing them for the

conference. Informational material, in the form of leaflets, a DVD and work-sheets should be provided and explained

to the young person to ensure they fully understand the process. The co-ordinator will typically meet with the young

person several times to prepare them for the conference.

The victim is not contacted about the option of attending a youth conference until after the young person has been

visited by the co-ordinator and confirmed that they are willing to participate. This is to avoid any potential revictimisation

by offering the victim the opportunity of a conference before the young person agrees to take part.

When the co-ordinator visits the victim for the first time the voluntary nature of the process should be emphasised

and the co-ordinator should explain the various means by which they can participate. Again, informational material

should be supplied and explained so the victim is fully aware of the nature of process and any potential outcomes.

Young person

On average, young people were first informed about the option of a youth conference 30 days before the conference

itself. When asked who first informed them about the option of a conference, the most frequent responses were the

court (43%), followed by the Youth Conference Service (26%) and PPS (15%). All young people received preconference

visit(s) by a co-ordinator before attending a conference. Overall, young people were positive about the

co-ordinator’s visit(s), with the majority rating it as either ‘good’ (40%) or very good (37%): “It’s the first time I’ve ever

been doing this – I didn’t know what to expect […] the co-ordinator explained everything nice and clearly.” Most

young people (90%) were also told of potential outcomes of the conference.

An overwhelming majority of young people stated that they were told ‘a lot’ about what the conference would be like

(96%) and what was expected of them during the conference (98%). Although the majority (74%) of young people

were told what would happen to their case if they did not attend the conference, just over a quarter did not. The

majority (74%) of young people, however, did not have any questions about what would happen at the conference,

and of those that did all responded that, when asked, these questions were answered to their satisfaction.

When asked if they were informed of their right to legal advice, the majority (76%) of young people stated that they

were, however 21% indicated that they were not and 4% could not remember. Most young people (66%) did not

receive legal advice before attending a conference, with only a third (34%) availing of this right. When broken down

into referral type, it is apparent that those referred to the Youth Conference Service by the court were much more

likely (80%) to have received legal advice than those referred by the diversionary route (21%). The increased

propensity for young people referred by the court to have received legal advice has interesting implications. The very

nature of the court process means that most young people will already have legal representation. Those referred via

the Public Prosecution Service, whilst participating in the same process, may be seen to be at a disadvantage, as in

order to get legal advice they must actively seek it out.

Victim

The majority of victims (74%) were first informed about the option of a youth conference by the Youth Conference

Service. Some victims were already aware that the conference process was occurring because they knew the young

person whilst others, particularly victim representatives, stated that they knew of youth conferencing because they

worked ‘in the field’54. Victims were informed of the option of a conference an average of 31 days before it took

place. The majority of victims were first contacted in person (47%), followed by telephone (29%) or by letter (22%).

Victims received a follow-up contact in most (93%) cases55, and this took place predominantly via telephone (81%).

Those victims that received follow-up contact rated it as ‘very good’ (61%) or ‘good’ (34%). No victims rated this

contact as ‘bad’.

54 Just under half of victims (47%) interviewed knew the young person before the offence. In the majority of these cases, the victim was a member

of staff from the young person’s care home (42%). Others knew the young person in their role as a police officer (17%), were a member of the young

person’s family (15%) or were related to the young person (11%).

55 It is important to note that the cases in which no second contact was made (7%) typically involved victim representatives who had previously

attended a conference and had therefore already undergone preparation.

Preliminary stages of the conference process

50

Interviews show that victims felt well informed about the conference process before attending. The vast majority

believed that they were told either ‘a lot’ (90%) or ‘a bit’ (8%) about the conference: “The co-ordinator explained it

all so well. Left no stone unturned”. Victims were also well informed as to who would attend the conference; 88%

were told either ‘a lot’ or ‘a bit’ about who would be at the conference. A very small number (4%), however, said that

they were not fully informed as to who would be attending. In interview, one victim admitted feeling uncomfortable

when the young person brought a supporter whom they did not know was attending; “I didn’t know their friend

would be there”. Obviously, it is important that such information is made clear to the victim prior to the conference

in order to avoid any potential re-victimisation or negative experiences56.

Almost all victims said they had a full (89%) or partial (8%) understanding of their role in the conference. For

example, when asked ‘were you told what was expected of you’ victims commented: “I was briefed about what part I

would play…explained well, so straightforward” and “I was told a lot, asked to explain what happened from my

point of view.” Only four victims (4%) – all attending in a representative role - stated that they were not told what

was expected of them at the conference. In terms of expectations, the majority of victims reported being told either ‘a

lot’ (82%) or ‘a bit’ (12%) about what the outcome of the conference could be. Of the seven victims (6%) that were

not told, two were personal victims and five victim representatives.

Almost half (48%) of all victims indicated that they had questions before coming to the conference; “I wanted to

know who the co-ordinator was representing and who was running this. I had heard rumours that it was community

restorative justice” but the vast majority (94%) of victims stated that these were answered ‘very well’ or ‘well’; “I had

a lot of questions – [answered] very clearly and precisely” and that they were given opportunity by the co-ordinator

to consider any questions they might have: “the co-ordinator called at tea-time and asked me to think about

questions. Gave me time to think about it.” Victims were asked if any other information would have been helpful in

preparing them for the conference. Most victims felt that no other information was necessary, however 17%

responded ‘yes’. When asked what would have been helpful, victims identified information on the young person’s

background, more information on what the conference would be like, more information on possible outcomes, and a

more realistic depiction of the young person’s attitude.

Victim Representative: “Guidance on proportionality for plan suggestions”

Personal victim: “What the young person’s attitude was to the conference? I didn’t feel I received

this sufficiently. I felt this was a very important factor. [The co-ordinator] said they couldn’t

disclose information on the offender’s attitude in other conferences – leaves you not knowing

whether you’re going to get more of the same”

Although for reasons of confidentiality some of this information (for example on the young person’s background)

cannot be disclosed, it is important that victims have as full an understanding as possible.

Informational material

Almost all young people (98%) were provided with informational material as part of the preparation process. This

included a leaflet explaining the youth conferencing process, a worksheet preparing them for what might happen in a

conference scenario and / or a DVD portraying a ‘mock’ conference. In several conferences observed, the young

person brought with them a completed worksheet to refer to at times when they were having difficulty articulating

answers.

When asked if they watched or read this informational material, nearly all (92%) responded ‘yes’57. Young people

were asked to rate the preparation material they had been given, and again feedback was mostly positive, with most

rating it as ‘ok’ (42%) or ‘good’ (31%); “definitely showed what it would be like. It definitely helps to do the leaflets.”

A minority of young people, however, felt that it was ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ (16%).

“The acting is terrible - but it did show what would happen.”

“[The DVD] was just talking about a victim and there was no victim in my case…it was a bit long.”

“The booklet was helpful, but the DVD didn’t relate to me.”

56 See Recommendation 8.

57 The majority of those that did not state that they had already done so for a previous conference.

Preliminary stages of the conference process

51

Negative responses however generally related to the young person’s perception of the characters and acting in the

DVD and / or its lack of relevance to their own situation, as opposed to a failure to provide information. To illustrate,

young people were asked if any other information would have been helpful, the vast majority (93%) responded ‘no’.

Victims received preparation material similar to that of the young person – leaflets, worksheets and a DVD portraying

a conference – which was specifically tailored to a victim perspective. Most victims (91%) read or watched this

information before attending. Those that did not stated that they were ‘too busy’ to do so. On the whole, feedback

regarding the preparation material was positive: “the leaflets helped me to understand what it was all about. The DVD

gave an example of how it worked”. One victim representative, however, felt that the materials did not directly relate

to them: “I didn’t watch the DVD, but I read the leaflets. The leaflets definitely applied to a victim. I don’t feel like I’m

a victim. It’s my place of work. It’s completely different to breaking into your home. I read them but put them in the

bin.” Indeed, many of the questions in the preparation sheet focus upon the personal impact of the offence, which

may be less relevant to a representative not personally affected by the offence. Although helpful for personal victims,

given that the majority of victim participants are representatives (60%), this perhaps indicates a shortfall of

information relating to this specific role58.

Willingness to participate

Young people

Consent is a vital prerequisite for the restorative process, and almost half of young people (48%) stated that they were

‘keen’ to participate in the conference:

“Definitely keen after the co-ordinator came to see me. She guided me and told me how I could

make up for it.”

“Keen to come because I wanted to show I was sorry and all that.”

A significant number (28%), however, indicated that they ‘didn’t want to’ take part. When broken down into referral

type the majority of young people (70%) who ‘didn’t want to’ take part were referred by the court. As explored in

Chapter 3, this may, in part, be related to the court environment and the potential for the young person to feel under

increased pressure to consent to a conference. On the other hand, this may indicate a level of reluctance to

participate from the young person, rather than a lack of consent. Although not all young people were keen to attend,

when asked if they felt pressure to attend, the majority said it ‘was’ their decision ‘all me’ or ‘mostly me’ (72%). A

small number of young people however stated that their decision to attend was ‘all’ (23 or 14%) or ‘mostly’ (12 or

7%) due to pressure. When asked where this pressure came from, most young people identified their supporter (14 or

41%), usually a parent, or ‘a combination of both their supporter and the court (14 or 41%)’] the court (13 or 38%):

“The court made me go” and “It was scary … I was worried about what would happen […] Mum wants to get it over

and done with so I played along with her.” Others did not identify a specific individual as the source of pressure, but

simply felt they ‘had to’ attend: “I didn’t want to come, but I knew I had to.”

Victims

The majority of victims interviewed (79%) indicated that they were ‘keen’ to participate in the conference, whilst

only 2% of victims reported feeling ‘neither keen nor unkeen’. In total, eleven victims stated that they initially ‘did

not want to’ attend the conference. When broken down into victim type, seven of these were personal victims and

four victim representatives. Regardless of whether or not they were ‘keen’ to attend most victims (91%) did feel that

their decision to attend was their own. Three victims claimed their decision to attend was entirely the result of

pressure (two personal victims and one victim representative). One victim representative commented: “I had to be

shoved down here by staff … I was told I had to go by my bosses - to see what its like.”

Reasons for attending

Young people

In interview, young people were asked a series of questions in order to establish their reasons for coming to the

conference:

58 See Recommendation 9.

Preliminary stages of the conference process

52

Table 4.3: Young person: What were your reasons for attending the conference?

As illustrated in Table 4.3, the most common reason (85%) for attending a conference was to ‘make up for what I had

done’. Many young people appreciated the opportunity to interact with the victim, indicating a wish to be forgiven

(79%), to help the victim (70%) and hear what the victim had to say (70%):

“I wanted to come and apologise to the victim and show him and his family that I am very sorry

for doing it.”

“To see what the victim felt and to say sorry.”

“I wanted to see the victims and let them know how I felt.”

This desire to ‘restore’ however is contrasted by a general perception amongst young people that any ‘punishment’

resulting from the conference would be in some way ‘easier’ than that dispensed by the court. Only a small minority

(15%) felt that the conference would result in greater punishment. Indeed, the vast majority (95%) of young people

who participated in a diversionary youth conference indicated that one of their reasons for attending was to avoid

going to court. Other reasons given by young people for attending a conference included:

“I thought it would help me.”

“I wasn’t keen to do it, but I was keen ‘cos I didn’t want it going on my record. Better option than

court […] for myself and my future, it was something I had to do.”

“I wanted to take responsibility and put it all behind me.”

“I want to change and I think this will help me.”

For many young people, therefore, the conference provided an opportunity to both take responsibility for their

actions and look towards the future.

Victims

Victims were also asked a series of questions to determine their reasons for attending, as displayed in Table 4.4 below.

Interestingly, for many victims the reason was altruistic; 79% attended ‘to help the young person’; “I wanted to help the

young person get straightened out” (personal victim); “I didn’t come for myself but for the young person … the offence

didn’t really affect me in a big way” (personal victim). Of the personal victims interviewed, only half (50%) attended a

conference in order to ‘find out why the young person victimised me’. Of the victims who did not know the young

person before the offence, the majority (60%) attended to find out more or ‘sort of’ (18%) attended to find out more

about them. The most frequent reason given for attending, however, was to both hear what the young person had to

say (88%); “I wanted to hear their side of the story”; and to explain the impact of their actions to the young person

(87%); “I wanted the young person to see how much it hurt me, and not how much they thought it hurt me.”

Yes

%

Sort of

%

No

%

Wanted to make up for what

I had done 85 8 7

Wanted to hear what the

victim had to say 70 11 19

Wanted to help the victim 70 16 14

Wanted people to

hear what I had to say 75 12 13

Wanted the victim to

forgive me 79 7 14

Thought punishment would

by easier than via court 75 9 15

Preliminary stages of the conference process

53

Table 4.4: Victim: What were your reasons for attending the conference?

*This question was only asked of personal victims.

Although many victims attended because they wanted (55%) or ‘sort of’ (14%) wanted to hear the young person

apologise, a significant proportion did not (31%). When examined more closely, for participants not directly affected

by the offence the need for an apology may be either marginal or irrelevant. This is reflected in the fact that the

majority (72%) of those who did not attend to hear the young person apologise were victim representatives.

Additional reasons for attending a conference given by victims included a curiosity about how the process worked;

“it was my first experience of the process, I wanted to know what it was like”; to find out more about the young

person; “to see what type of person the young person is”; to see the young person’s attitude; “I wanted to know why

they felt they had to smash the place up”; to make the young person realise they had done wrong; “young people

should see the error of their ways and that they can’t get away with it” and to stop the young person from reoffending;

“wanted to see the wee lad and try and convince him not to do it again.” From these comments, it would

appear that the desire to ‘punish’ the young person is less important than meeting the young person and receiving

some sort of explanation from them.

4.6 Non-participation

Victims

Overall, victim participation in the conferencing process was high, with a victim or victim representative present in

over two-thirds of conferences (69%). Although a positive outcome, this finding confirms that not all victims wished

to engage in the conferencing process. It is important to gain insight into the views of the 31% of victims who did not

attend a conference and to this end, a number of semi-structured telephone interviews were carried out. These

interviews explored respondents reasons for non-participation, their thoughts on the conferencing process and their

subsequent experiences of the criminal justice system (see Appendix 5). Unfortunately, the process of obtaining

these interviews proved problematic and the number of interviews carried out was significantly lower than was

anticipated. Consequently, only 11 interviews were completed with non-participating victims. Although a small

sample, these interviews nonetheless provide valuable insight into the experience of victims who do not wish to

come face to face with the young person.

For some victims, reasons for non-attendance related to practical difficulties, such as transport, illness within their

family or problems arising from requiring time off work and loss of earnings. One respondent was dissuaded from

attending, stating that “I would have went and seen the young person and reddened his face but I was told not to

attend by my manager.” Although representing a minority of cases, of concern was the finding that two victims did

not attend a youth conference due to what may only be considered an administrative error – they were not informed

of the date or venue of the youth conference.

Yes

%

Sort of

%

No

%

Wanted to hear what the young

person had to say 88 4 8

Wanted the young person to know

how their actions affected me 86 5 9

Wanted to help the young person 79 9 12

Thought it would help me move on* 56 9 33

Wanted to hear the young person

apologise 55 14 31

Wanted to hear why they victimised

me* 50 11 39

Preliminary stages of the conference process

54

A number of victims reported their lack of desire to meet the young person face to face: “I didn’t want to attend; I’ve

been through enough already.” Indeed, five respondents explicitly expressed fear at the prospect of a direct meeting

with the young person. Five interviewees reinforced both a desire to move on and a reluctance to act in a way they

felt may have negative repercussions on them:

“We just didn’t want to highlight ourselves. We live in a small community, the young person is

known and the family could come back on us.”

Others felt that the offence committed was not serious enough to warrant their involvement in a conference, “I didn’t

think it was worth it, not a big enough offence.” Finally, one person indicated that they were never engaged with the

Youth Conferencing Service, stating that “I informed the co-ordinator that I had nothing to do with the charges being

brought about. The police informed me that this incident was only one of many and they were prosecuting it.”

When asked “could anything else have been done to persuade you to attend a conference” most non-participating

victims (8) responded ‘no’. One, however, conceded that “it’s possible some good will come out of it … we’ll see.”

Victims were asked if they were told of other opportunities (other than attending) to contribute to the conferencing

process and only four responded that they were. These were identified as someone attending the conference on their

behalf or the writing of a letter or statement describing the impact of the offence. No victims availed of these

alternative options due to ‘time constraints’, that they “felt it was better just to drop it” or an unwillingness to

participate in any form; “I’d made me mind up. That’s that.”

Where victims choose not to participate in a youth conference, it is important that, where it is requested, they receive

feedback and are made aware of the outcome of the conference. Despite this, only four were contacted in some way

offering this information59. Victims stated that “the Youth Conference Service wrote and told us what happened at the

conference” and several described receiving a letter of apology from the young person. The fact remains, however,

that seven victims “heard nothing from the Youth Conference Service”. There were mixed reactions to this, with some

victims expressing no particular feelings, while others stated that “I would have liked to see what the result was”.

Some furthermore felt that their decision not to attend effectively terminated their “role” or usefulness in the process.

Although every effort should be made to accommodate a victim’s presence at the youth conference, some problems

are simply unforeseeable or without remedy. Nonetheless, particularly in the case of businesses in the community, it

is arguable better education with regard to the positive impact their representative may have on the young person and

the conference is required: “I didn’t feel it would benefit me or the company to meet the young person”60.

The ideal ‘restorative’ scenario would, of course, be to have a victim or victim representative in attendance at each

youth conference that takes place. This, however, is problematic to realise in practice. It is difficult, if not impossible

to overcome the reluctance that a small number of victims have in participating in this kind of process and it is

important not to subject them to any degree of re-victimisation. On the other hand, it is vital that every effort is made

to engage victims in the restorative process as it is all too easy for victims to be marginalised.

Young people

As with non-participating victims, young people who initially consented to a youth conference, but subsequently

withdrew their consent were interviewed in order to gain insight into their experience. Again, the practicalities of

obtaining these interviews proved difficult given that some young people no longer resided at the given address

(some having moved within the care system or juvenile justice system) and the fact that some listed telephone

numbers were no longer in use. As such this sample was also small, with only eight young people interviewed,

however feedback received from young people nevertheless proved insightful.

Young people were asked why they decided not to take part in a conference. The types of response varied from “no real

reason, I just wanted to go to court and get it over with”, or “I don’t want to attend a meeting with a police officer”, to

“I have already completed a youth conference and didn’t want to do another”, and “cos I’m not sorry for it”. When

asked if fear about meeting the victim or nerves about talking in front of others were decisive factors, the majority of

young people said “no”. “I just didn’t want to sit in a room and talk about it” and similar phrases were commonly used.

Some mention was made, however, of the tension that may arise if offender and victim were confronted with one

another, in particular if they are not known to each other and have had no contact since the offence.

59 See Recommendation 10.

60 See Recommendation 9.

Preliminary stages of the conference process

55

When asked whose decision it was to refrain from engaging with youth conferencing, all young people stated that it

was their own decision. One young person did continue, however, saying that “my solicitor also advised me against

it. He didn’t think it would be a good idea”. Young people were asked if anything could have been done to change

their minds, and all responded ‘no’. They reported being satisfied with how the work of the YCS had been explained

to them and that they had no unanswered questions about it. As for regrets of opting for the straight court disposal

route, the young people replied with a resounding “no regrets”. One young person did say that he would like to

have done a youth conference, “but not for that offence but I would do it for another”.

4.7 Conclusion

Most cases referred to the Youth Conference Service subsequently resulted in a conference. In line with the

philosophy that “any delay in dealing with children is likely to prejudice their welfare” conferences were generally

completed within the required timescale61. A victim was present in over two-thirds of conferences. This may be seen

as a positive achievement when compared to victim attendance rates in similar schemes in operation elsewhere62.

For the vast majority of victims and young people conference preparation was seen to equip them with sufficient

knowledge about the process and realistic expectations as to what could be achieved at a conference. The preconference

process provided an additional opportunity to both re-affirm the young person’s consent and ensure that it

is informed. Victims did not attend conferences through a desire to see ‘punishment’ dispensed, but instead a

significant number attended to ‘help the young person’. For victims, a face to face encounter in which they could

both explain their point of view and listen to the young person’s perspective was most important. Young people

appreciated the opportunity to interact with the victim, indicating a wish to make amends, be forgiven, help the

victim and hear what the victim had to say.

Though the sample was small, victim non-participation was primarily a consequence of personal reasons, as opposed

to a failure on the part of the Youth Conference Service. It is important, however, that information on the progress of

the case is made readily available where non-participating victims have requested it. It is similarly important that,

where the victim has made an alternative contribution such as a letter or statement, information is given on how it

was received at the conference63.

61 Section 53(3) Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002.

62 See Chapter 2 for a comparative analysis of restorative models operating internationally.

63 See Recommendation 10.

Chapter 5

The conference

The conference

59

5.1 Introduction

This chapter focuses on the conference process itself, following it from the opening stages to the signing of the action

plan. Key issues examined include engagement and interaction, participant satisfaction levels, reparation, remorse

and the agreement and content of conference plans.

5.2 Summary of findings

Most victims appeared calm and relaxed at the start of the conference, and did not report feeling

nervous. By contrast, 71% of young people displayed some degree of nervousness and avoidance

or discomfort.

Overall, co-ordinators were observed to introduce participants and the process very well. On some

occasions, however, the confidential and voluntary nature of the process was not explained in

adequate detail.

Young people generally engaged well when discussing the offence, and were given the opportunity

to explain it from their perspective (93%). Almost all young people (98%) felt that they were

listened to when they did so.

The vast majority (97%) of young people accepted responsibility for their actions either ‘a lot’

(61%) or ‘a bit’ (36%).

Victims were generally very engaged in the conference process. All victims felt that conference

gave them the opportunity to explain to the young person how the crime affected them.

Both victim and young people’s supporters were generally observed to feed positively into the

restorative atmosphere of the conference. The vast majority of young people (93%) and all victims

said that they found their presence ‘helpful’.

The majority of conferences considered contributory factors when discussing the crime. The most

common were substance misuse, peer pressure and family difficulties.

In the majority (87%) of conferences the young person apologised or agreed to apologise. The

majority of conferences without an apology involved a victim representative and not a personal

victim. Young people were observed to display some level of shame (77%) and remorse (92%) in

most conferences.

Both young people and victims were involved in devising the conference plan. In total, 89% of

young people and 96% of victims were either ‘a lot’ or ‘a bit’ engaged when deciding the plan.

During the period of the research, 95% of conferences reached agreement on a plan. The majority

of young people (74%) and victims (87%) were ‘happy to agree’ to the plan.

Both young people (93%) and victims (79%) believed the plan to be either ‘very fair’ or ‘fair’.

Similarly, 71% of young people and 79% of victims were ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with the plan.

In terms of proportionality, most young people (72%) and victims (69%) believed the plan to be

‘neither too hard nor too soft’.

5.3 The structure of conferences

Rule 6 of the Youth Conference Rules (Northern Ireland) 2003 provides that the co-ordinator may “conduct a youth

conference in such manner as appears to him to be appropriate”. Most conferences observed followed a semistructured

format, which allowed room for a degree of flexibility and potential innovation. This structure was as

follows:

Welcome by co-ordinator and group introductions

Purpose of conference, confidentiality, voluntary involvement, ground rules, and practicalities

explained

Police officer invited to summarise facts of offence

Young person provided with the opportunity to respond to this and explain the offence from their

perspective

Victim given the opportunity to respond to the young person’s account and explain the impact of

the offence

Opportunity for young person to apologise

Other participants offered chance to explain their perspective on the offence

Co-ordinator summarises offence and impact of the offence to the group

Discussion of possible outcomes for action plan amongst participants

Negotiation of action plan

Agreement of action plan

Closing remarks

Signing of the action plan

On the whole, this structure proved logical and worked well in practice. Although following a basic progression, with

the exception of the reading out of the facts of the case by the police officer conferences were unscripted and, as

such, no two observed conferences were the same.

5.4 Opening stages of the conference

In almost all conferences (82%), the victim and their supporter(s) were observed to enter the room in which the

conference was held before the young person and their supporter(s). This appeared to be a conscious decision on the

part of the co-ordinator, with obvious power / territorial implications given that the victim’s presence was firmly

established in the room prior to the young person entering. On arrival, participants generally waited in separate

rooms and did not meet face to face before entering the conference room. In some cases, the young person and

victim both arrived and entered the conference room together, however this was generally where participants had a

pre-existing relationship, such as staff from the young person’s care home or a family member.

The victim

Reaction to the young person

Most victims (51%) were observed to greet the young person on first seeing them at the conference. This was

followed by no reaction / no observable reaction (30%) or avoidance (9%). The majority of victims (77%) appeared

relaxed at the beginning of the conference. This finding, however, must be viewed in light of the fact that 60% of

participating victims were victim representatives, many who had little or no personal involvement in the offence

itself. To illustrate, of those described as ‘calm/controlled’ 28% were personal victims and 72% were victim

representatives. Only ten victims appeared ‘very nervous’ at the start of the conference, 8 of whom were personal

victims. On seeing the young person, one victim said that they felt “awful, that is why I rushed out to the toilet. I

panicked. Felt like saying I couldn't face her.” Although representing a minority of victims, it is important to recognise

that for some victims coming face to face with the young person is a difficult process.

Regardless of victim type, the overwhelming majority (93%) of both personal and representative victims displayed no

signs of anger at the start of the conference. In some cases, this may be related to passage of time, one victim

explained that as the conference began they felt “ok. It was nine months ago since it happened – the anger wears off

you.” Only one victim – a personal victim – appeared to be ‘very angry’ at the start of the conference.

The conference

60

The conference

61

Nervousness

Most victims were not nervous about coming to the conference; almost three quarters (74%) reported feeling ‘not at

all’ nervous. The majority of victims also indicated that they were not nervous at the prospect of meeting the young

person (84%), or speaking at the conference (79%). Findings indicate that personal victims were slightly more likely

to be ‘very nervous’ about attending the conference; of the fifteen victims (12%) who reported feeling this way,

eleven were personal victims. In the interviews it was found that where the victim was nervous, it was often at the

prospect of coming face to face with the young person and/or their supporter(s). One personal victim stated that they

were “nervous cos I hadn’t faced her since it happened”, whilst another was “nervous about the parent’s reaction and

what would happen”. For one young victim, communicating in a group and “trying to get my point across to be

understood properly” led to pre-conference anxiety. Interviews with victims found that the decision to attend a

conference may be an entirely different experience for personal victims and victim representatives: “If it was my

house I would have been nervous. I would have had to think twice about the wisdom of coming.” Nevertheless, there

are common uncertainties felt by both personal victims and victim representatives:

Victim representative: "I was in two minds as to whether to come" "I was worried about his parents

being here - scared about how they would react" "the co-ordinator told me that the young person’s

father was very relaxed - that's partly why I came in the end" The victim refers to staff from their

place of work, "I had to be shoved down here by staff"

The young person

Reaction to the victim

At the beginning of the conference, the reaction of the young person was generally very different to that of victims.

Although many young people (34%) either greeted the victim or responded to their greeting, the predominant

reaction was one of avoidance (35%) or no reaction/no observable reaction (17%). Reactions of avoidance and

nervousness suggest that many young people found the start of the conference an uncomfortable experience. Young

people tended to respond to this apparent discomfort in two ways, by either ‘closing up’; “I’m here because I was

sent here” or ‘opening up’; “I’m here to apologise and say why I have done these things.”

Similar to victims, most young people (86%) did not display anger or aggression at the start of the conference. In

seventeen cases, however, the young person was observed to display ‘a bit’ of anger whilst in nine conferences ‘a lot’

of anger / aggression was displayed.

Nervousness

Most young people (71%) displayed some degree of nervousness at the beginning of the conference, with just over a

quarter (28.6%) of young people appearing ‘not at all’ nervous. Observations reflect what young people reported in

interview; 37% said they were ‘very nervous’ and 21% said they were ‘a bit nervous’; “on a scale of 1 to 10 I was a

14.” The remaining 41% of young people stated that they did not feel nervous about the conference. However, on

many occasions nervousness was visibly apparent throughout the conference and was often an impediment to

interaction. One young person’s supporter commented on their uncharacteristic withdrawal: “I’ve been watching

[young person]. What is wrong with him today?” One young person described experiencing nervousness initially, but

as the conference progressed they felt more at ease; “I was nervous when I first heard, but really not nervous today …

I was nervous for the first five minutes, but then it was easy to talk.”

After the conference the young people interviewed were asked about nervousness in relation to specific aspects of

the conference. Many young people (59%) stated they were either ‘very’ or ‘a bit’ nervous about speaking at the

conference; “I didn’t want to speak. Every time I spoke I had a red face”; whilst half (50%) were ‘very’ or ‘a bit’

nervous about meeting the victim; “I was shocked when I saw him – he’s massive!” The finding that half (50%) of all

young people were ‘not at all’ nervous about meeting the victim, should be read in light of the fact that over a third

(38%) of young people knew the victim before the offence64, and that many of the attending victims were

representatives. Indeed, the existence of a previous relationship with the victim could potentially make such an

encounter less intimidating: “I wasn’t nervous ‘cos I knew everyone there”, “I wasn’t nervous – I see the victim every

day”.

64 Young people reported knowing the victim in the following ways; worker in the young person’s care home (22%), relative / guardian (17%), police officer in local area

(17%), pupil at the same school (15%).

The conference

62

65 See Recommendation 11.

The Co-ordinator

A crucial time in the facilitation of the conference is the opening stages, in which the co-ordinator establishes the

purpose of the conference, ground-rules and practicalities and ensures that participants understand the process. In

observations, co-ordinators were generally observed to perform well in explaining these matters. In the vast majority

of conferences, participants were observed to be introduced very well and encouraged to introduce themselves to the

group by the co-ordinator. The role of each participant in the conference was explained well in all but ten

conferences. The case study below demonstrates a well-facilitated opening:

Case study A: Start of the conference

Robert has been charged with supplying a class C drug, and has been referred to a diversionary

youth conference. His parents, Linda and John, have attended to support him. Katherine, the

manager of the premises where the offence took place, is attending in the role of a victim

representative.

The co-ordinator begins introducing themselves and thanking all participants for coming. They direct

the group’s attention to a flipchart on which the progressive stages of the conference are displayed.

Using this as a guideline, they explain how the conference will progress and each participant’s role

in the conference. The co-ordinator then asks each member of the group to introduce themselves in

turn. Robert’s mother, Linda, begins: “I’m Linda, and I’m here to hopefully get as much help as we

can and make it clear to Robert that his actions were totally unacceptable”, Robert: “I’m Robert and

I’m here because of the trouble I did and to apologise”, John: “I’m here to give every bit of help that

I can to my son”. The police officer introduces themselves and explains their role. Finally Katherine,

the victim representative explains she is “here representing the [organisation]. I know Robert well.

I’m glad to be here to see him and help in any way I can.”

Following the introductions, the co-ordinator explains the practicalities of the conference, including

fire exits and the location of toilets. They inform the group that breaks can be called for a chat or

‘time-out’ if participants feel it is necessary. The co-ordinator continues by describing the process as

voluntary and acknowledges that Robert “has made an effort to be here, and that is commendable.”

The confidentiality of the conference and exceptions to this are explained well, and the ground

rules, which are also displayed on a flipchart are described in detail. The co-ordinator checks if

anyone has any questions or concerns, and as there are none, they then invite the police officer to

read the statement of facts.

When asked how well they felt the co-ordinator explained what would happen at the start of the conference most

young people answered ‘very well’ or ‘well’ (79%). Victims were similarly positive; 95% felt that this was done ‘very

well’ or ‘well’; “brilliant – they went through it in fine detail and explained everything.” A small number of young

people indicated that there were certain aspects at the start of the conference that they did not understand. These

often related to language and concepts used; “the co-ordinator used complicated words”; “the idea of the general

public as a victim”. Similarly, a minority of victims (5%) indicated that there were aspects that they did not

understand, namely; ‘my role in deciding the plan’, ‘words the co-ordinator used’, ‘the role of the mentor’ and ‘the

role of the solicitor’. The co-ordinator generally performed well in checking that participants understood what would

happen; this was done ‘well’ or ‘ok’ in 87% of conferences. Participants had questions in only sixteen conferences

and in all but one conference these were answered ‘very well’ (8), ‘well’ (4) or ‘ok’ (3).

In most conferences, the ground rules of the conference were displayed on a whiteboard or flipchart. This acted as a

visible reminder, and where necessary, the co-ordinator would refocus participant’s attention to the rules. Prior to

discussing the offence, the co-ordinator would often ask the group if they agreed to adhere to the rules. In

conjunction with the ground rules on display, this proved to be a useful way of establishing a ‘contract’ of behaviour.

Several co-ordinators also used a flipchart or whiteboard outlining the progressive stages of the conference. Whilst

this was often valuable, particularly where the young person had difficulties in maintaining attention, it may be seen

to detract from the spontaneity of conferences by making them overly prescribed65. For example, in one conference

‘opportunity to apologise’ was listed as a stage of the conference.

The conference

63

66 See Recommendation 12.

67 Namely, issues.relating to child protection and other offences.

68 See Recommendation 12.

Two further issues of note are that of confidentiality and voluntariness. In the majority of conferences the co-ordinator

explained that the process was voluntary, however this was not well explained in over a quarter (29%) of

conferences66. The re-iteration of voluntariness at the beginning of the conference is important given that the UN

Guidelines stipulate that the process “should be used only with the free and voluntary consent of the parties” (United

Nations, 2000). In terms of confidentiality, this was done ‘well’ or ‘ok’ in 93% of conferences. In 13 conferences,

however, the confidentiality of the process, and the exceptions to this67, was not made sufficiently clear. A lack of

appreciation that the process is confidential could be seen as an obstacle to participant interaction68.

5.5 Discussing the crime

Statement of facts

Following the opening stages in which the co-ordinator will introduce participants, explain the process and establish

the conference’s ground-rules focus is then directed towards the offence and its impact. In the vast majority of

conferences observed, the co-ordinator began this stage of the conference by asking the police officer to read out a

pre-prepared statement of facts. This is put forward as ‘neutral’ perspective after which the young person and victim

can explain what happened from their perspective. Once read, the young person is provided with the opportunity to

comment on the accuracy of the police officer’s account. In the majority of conferences (84%), this account was

unquestioned, however, in 29 conferences young person or supporter(s) did dispute some of the facts as read out.

Case study B: Disputed facts

Henry has been referred to a diversionary conference for the offence of disorderly behaviour. He is

attending with his mother, Henrietta. Following the opening stages of the conference, the co-ordinator

invites the police officer to read out the facts of the case and Henry then proceeds to tell his story.

Following some questions by the co-ordinator, the police officer reads from the statement again: “The

young person was shouting “I'm going to f**kin' kill you!’” Henry: “I didn't say that now … I might

have shouted something else but I wouldn't shout that.” Co-ordinator: “You agree you were acting in

a frightening and aggressive manner, but you don't agree with what the police officer says you said?”

Henry: “No.” Co-ordinator: “Why?” Henry: “Cos I wouldn't have said that.”

Focus then turned away from this disputed fact to the general impact of the offence. This issue was

not resolved in the conference, however it was implied that the police officer’s account was correct as

Henry was intoxicated at the time of the offence. Co-ordinator “you drank eight cans in 1.5 hours”,

Henry: “Yep, it went straight to my head.”

It should be stated that the conference can offer an environment for participants to discuss and debate the facts

surrounding the offence. However, on a few occasions, denial or disputation of facts was more substantial and, as

illustrated in the case study below, led to the conference being terminated:

Case study C: Disputed facts (conference terminated)

Ainsley has been referred to a diversionary youth conference for the offence of assault. Ainsley’s

mother, Beth, is attending as his appropriate adult. Also supporting Ainsley are Callum, his mentor,

and David, his social worker. No victim is in attendance.

Following the co-ordinator’s introductions and explanation of the ground rules the police officer is

invited to read out the statement of facts. The police officer describes how Ainsley kicked the victim

in the leg three times and spat in their face. The co-ordinator asks Ainsley how he felt at the time; “I

know it was nearly a year ago.” Ainsley has his hands on his head and is leaning back in his chair: “I

was angry that she took my cigarettes off me. I didn’t spit in her face. I only hit her in the leg once.”

Co-ordinator: “What do you think now?” Ainsley: “Don’t know”. There is a silence.

David, Ainsley’s supporter, questions Ainsley on what he is admitting to: “You should be open about it

– either you are not telling all or she is lying. She has no reason to lie.” The co-ordinator checks that

The conference

64

69 See Recommendation 13.

70 See Recommendation 5.

Ainsley is only admitting to kicking the victim once. The police officer then reads out the victim’s

statement and medical report. David speaks gently to Ainsley: “Two areas of bruising indicate more

than one blow. You need to take responsibility. You have nothing to lose by being honest - that was in

the past. You've changed. Be straight about it.” Ainsley becomes agitated: “I am being straight about

this!” The co-ordinator reminds Ainsley that they have signed a form admitting to the offence. Ainsley:

“I never. I only signed a document that I kicked her once. I remember that.” The co-ordinator asks

Ainsley how the victim received the other bruises, Ainsley responds aggressively: “I don’t know! I

kicked her once. That’s it.” The police officer asks Ainsley if it is possible that he doesn’t remember

because he was angry, Ainsley: “No. I remember. I hit her once.” The co-ordinator reminds Ainsley

that they are required to write a report to the PPS that he has not fully admitted guilt. David “We

need to deal with this.” Ainsley: “They don’t f**kin’ believe me! What is the point in coming here?”

The co-ordinator reminds Ainsley about his language and warns that the conference will have to be

stopped. Ainsley indicates that he wishes the conference to be stopped and a break is called. Ainsley

then withdraws his consent and the conference process is terminated.

Although such a scenario is representative of a small minority of cases, it may be beneficial if the young person is

presented with the facts as they have been recorded for the offence. While in legal terms it is not necessary for the

young person to share participant’s views on the surrounding facts, it might be useful to explain to the young person

and other participants that there is a difference between debating the facts and disputing the actual offence69.

Therefore, in terms of the former, the restorative philosophy of the conference might facilitate disagreement and

dialogue around the facts of the offence. However, in the latter scenario, that is, in agreeing to the actual crime, the

young person must consent to the legal elements that make up the offence. Indeed, meetings between young person

and co-ordinator in the pre-conference preparation process may be seen to act as an important safeguard in this

respect and can help to re-establish that the necessary admission of guilt is in place.

The young person

Engagement

Observations found that young people generally engaged well in the conference process, with the vast majority being

either ‘very’ (47%) or ‘a bit’ (51%) talkative when discussing the offence. In only five conferences was the young

person observed to be ‘not at all’ talkative. Whilst some spoke freely about the offence without any need for

prompting, others successfully engaged by responding to a series of questions asked by the co-ordinator. As an aid,

several young people brought a worksheet they had completed in preparation for the conference, and one young

person attended with their own notebook containing handwritten notes.

In the majority of conferences (56%) the young person was focused, and did not appear agitated or restless. However,

in about a quarter of conferences (29%) the young person was ‘a bit’ restless / agitated and ‘a lot’ in a further 16%.

Such restlessness was evident by the young person fidgeting, sighing, slouching, looking around the room and

moving about in their seat70. Given that the young person was present in a room with adults, this seems

understandable and indeed normal. Whilst a number of young people were restless throughout the entirety of the

conference, in several conferences, as will be discussed later in this Chapter, this restlessness was particularly visible

when the plan was being devised.

As established earlier, many young people (75%) attended a conference because ‘they wanted people to hear what I

had to say’. Observations found that in the majority of conferences the young person successfully explained the

offence from their perspective either ‘a lot’ (49%) or ‘a bit’ (44%).

Young person: “Every time I am in that area the police always stop me, search me, be cheeky with

me and I thought you were them so I was cheeky to you. I thought you were someone else.”

Co-ordinator: “How did you feel when you were arrested?” Young person: “I was scared ‘cos I

didn’t know what would happen to me and ‘cos I damaged him so much. I didn’t mean to injure

him that much. I was scared I’d get sent to jail. He couldn’t stand up, he was just lying there. He

couldn’t move at all.”

The conference

65

In 12 conferences (7%), however, the young person did not explain his or her perspective on the offence. This was

typically due to non-engagement or withdrawal by the young person as opposed to domination by another

participant. Where the young person was having difficulty articulating responses, the co-ordinator would often assist

them by asking a series of questions. Whilst often very effective, some young people failed to respond to this

approach, providing ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘don’t know’ answers. On occasion, repeated questioning by the co-ordinator led to

frustration and / or agitation on the part of the young person; “It was a long time, nearly a year ago. I’ve already told

you. I don’t know why I did it. Why do you just ask and ask and ask?” That some young people were under the

influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the offence also caused difficulties in recollection: “I can only remember

when I was being chased. I can’t remember being in the shop. I was drinking and on glue.”

On the whole, there was a general perception amongst young people that their views were listened to at the

conference. When asked if they felt people listened to what they had to say the vast majority of young people said

yes (93%) or ‘sort of’ (5%). Most young people also appeared to listen to the victim when they explained their

perspective of the offence. This was apparent through eye contact, nodding, sitting forward or by verbal assent; “uhhuh,

uh-huh”; as the victim explained the impact. For a small number of conferences (10 or 6%) the young person

appeared not to listen to the victim. Of these, eight involved victim representatives and only two involved personal

victims.

For many victims, the extent to which the young person made eye contact was important, particularly with regard to

perceptions of sincerity; “he was saying the right things but they just felt like words. He made bad eye contact”; and

“he looked me in the eye when apologising.” Half of all young people (50%) were observed to engage directly and

did not avoid eye contact with any of the participants; however, in 29.4% of conferences the young person avoided

eye contact ‘a lot’ and ‘a bit’ in 24.3%. Such lack of direct eye contact is perhaps unsurprising and may be related to

nervousness and discomfort experienced by young people.

Most young people did not appear visibly upset in the conference (90%). In thirteen conferences the young person

was observed to be ‘a bit’ upset, and in six they were ‘very upset’. In none of the conferences observed did the young

person become ‘very upset’ as a direct result of victim input. Instead, all but one of the young people became ‘very

upset’ upon hearing the impact on their supporter(s), particularly their parents; “I'm sorry for what I did and had to

bring you's into it”

Acceptance of responsibility

In terms of accepting responsibility for their actions, observations found that nearly all young people accepted

responsibility (97%) either ‘a lot’ (61%) or ‘a bit’ (36%); “we all take responsibility. None of us can say we didn't do

it because we did. We've changed now”. In only five conferences did the young person fail to accept responsibility,

two of which had a victim in attendance. Those that accepted partial responsibility were sometimes observed to

attempt to mitigate their own role in the offence or ‘justify’ their actions. This was particularly apparent when the

offence was against the police; “I don't like the police so I didn't see any reason to give my right name to them.”

Although most young people did not attempt to explicitly ‘shift the blame’, 21.7% did to some extent: “I wouldn’t

have done things if I hadn’t been grabbed in the first place.” In interview, victims were asked if they felt that the

young person had taken responsibility for their actions. The majority of victims felt that the young person had

accepted responsibility for their actions at the conference either ‘a lot’ (67%) or partially (19%). Only seventeen

victims (14%) did not believe that the young person accepted responsibility.

The conference

66

The victim

Engagement

Following the young person’s account of the offence, the victim was then invited by the co-ordinator to respond by

describing the offence from their perspective. Overall, victims were observed to be very engaged at this stage of the

conference; 83% were ‘very’ talkative and 15% ‘a bit’ talkative. The forum of the conference was observed to

successfully provide victims with the opportunity to explain the impact of the offence on them or those who they

represented:

Personal victim: “I know you were messing around, but you hurt me. I felt sick. I went to the office

and told them, but I said I didn't want anything done. I was sick and light headed. I go around [the

area] all the time and I'd be worried in case you go near me. I don't want you to go near me. You

can say hello, but nothing else. Don't hurt me again. I don't want you punished.”

Personal victim: “After it happened I wouldn't go to school cos I was terrified of you. When I saw

you going into school I ran away. I was terrified. I was shaking. You hurt me.”

Personal victim: “I was working in a club to get extra money. It was my first car. Took me three

years to save up for it [describes damage to car] off the road for 5-6 days. It took me two buses to

get to work. Frustrating. Not the worst thing that could happen, but I was pissed off. I'm glad you

are here, that you are owning up and facing me face to face. You are due respect for that. It is

difficult to put into words how pissed off I was that night and when I got the bill a few weeks later.”

Victim representative: “You could have set yourself on fire….you could have caused millions in

damages, people could have lost their jobs…Firemen could have been needed elsewhere. You

were putting other people's lives in danger.”

In interview, victims were asked ‘if there was anything you wanted to say that you didn’t get a chance to’. Most

victims (92%) indicated that they had said everything that wanted to in the conference. Some victims, however noted

that there were some specific questions that they would have liked to asked, for example, ‘why pick on me’ and more

general questions relating to, for example, the young person’s background or drug use.

Personal Victim: “I wanted to ask her more questions – like to know, ‘why did you threaten to put

me in hospital?’. I asked her why would you want to put someone else through the pain you’ve

been through but she didn’t answer.”

Other responses to this question included a wish to tell the young person ‘they have got the easy option’ and to ‘wise

up and take responsibility’. When asked why they did not ask these questions in the conference one young victim

stated that: “There were a couple of questions I didn't want to say out in case I was being rude … just in case it

offended the supporters.” This statement suggests that there may be some form of perceived boundary at a conference

that participants feel uncomfortable crossing. One victim articulated this, explaining that when discussing the impact

of the offence: “I don't think I would have been allowed to go much further ... I got the feeling you weren't to say too

much against the young person.” The difficulty they encountered in explaining the true impact of the offence to the

young person was revealed by one victim, who felt that doing so would leave them vulnerable:

Personal Victim: “I didn’t want to be asked to tell the young person how their actions affected

me…I was shaking and in tears at the time – reduced to a quivering lump. It wouldn’t have

touched them; it would have given them a laugh …I felt very guarded about what I was saying…I

was apprehensive about their attitude …I wasn’t prepared to tell the young person how it affected

me because it was a professional incident. I told the co-ordinator this and they respected it”

The majority of victims (67%) did not appear to be relieved or unburdened at the conference itself, with no

significant difference between victims and victim representatives71. Only 30% appeared ‘a bit’ unburdened and four

victims – two representatives and two personal victims – appeared ‘a lot’ unburdened; “it’s really great me being able

to say this to you personally. It gets a lot of frustration off my mind.” Similarly, a relatively small number of victims

71 This was measured by observing the victims’ demeanour throughout the conference. For example, if they appeared agitated at the beginning of the conference but

expressed or displayed relief as the conference progressed.

The conference

67

appeared to be ‘empowered’ by the process; 22% were ‘a bit’ empowered, and 2% (two victims) appeared to be

empowered ‘a lot’. Just under three-quarters (74%) of victims displayed no sign of empowerment. When discussing

the offence, the majority of victims (81%) did not appear angry or ‘wound up’. However, 27 victims (19%) did

display some degree of anger, twelve of whom were personal victims.

Reaction to the young person

All victims felt they were given the opportunity to tell the young person how the crime impacted upon them or those

who they represented either ‘a lot’ (97%) or ‘a bit’ (3%). No victims indicated that they were not given the

opportunity to explain the impact of the offence. In this respect, the conference process was very successful in

meeting victim’s expectations given that the majority (86%) cited this as a reason for attending. Victims were asked if

they felt the young person listened to them when they did so, and just under three quarters (74%) believed that they

did, or did to some extent (16%). Only ten victims (8%) - six representatives and four personal victims - felt that the

young person did not listen to them.

Most victims (71%) displayed some degree of frustration or anger towards the young person at the conference.

Observations found that 28 victims (19%) appeared ‘a bit’ frustrated and 15 victims (10%) were very frustrated. In

some cases, this frustration was due to the particulars of the offence and how it was dealt with. For example, in cases

where there was one victim but a number of co-defendants, some victims attended the conference of each of the

young people involved. In several conferences, a lack of consistency between the young people’s accounts led to the

victim becoming frustrated. To illustrate, in one conference, the victim stated on several occasions that he was unsure

if the young person was being honest as none of the other young people were admitting to causing the damage. In

another, the victim told the young person: “I was party to the other conference and they said the opposite, so

someone is telling lies.” Whether or not it is appropriate to deal with these cases separately is a practice issue and

something that might be best to determine on a case-by-case basis. On the one hand, separate conferences may

support a more focused discussion about the offence and the contributing forces as identified by the individual young

person. On the other hand, it may be difficult for the victim and other participants to resolve or make sense of

different accounts of the offence where each young person attends a separate conference.

The vast majority of victims accepted the young person’s version of the offence either ‘a lot’ (69%) or ‘a bit’ (25%). In

total, nine victims (6%) did not accept the young person’s version of the crime. Although most victims (89%) were

not emotionally moved by the young person’s account, many victims (74%) expressed a degree of empathy towards

the young person, as is illustrated in the following case study:

Case study D: The sympathetic victim

Peter has been charged with shoplifting and common assault and was referred to a youth conference

by the Public Prosecution Service. He has come to the conference with his mother, Rhonda, his

mentor, Simon and his key worker, Terry. Gary, the victim of assault, has decided to attend without a

supporter.

Following discussion of the offence, the co-ordinator begins exploring contributory factors and

mentions the fact that Peter should have been in school at the time of the offence. Gary asks Peter if

he is going to do it again. Peter: “No, I have been changing my ways and everything”, Gary: “You

remind me a lot of me when I was younger. We come from a similar background, but I made a

decision to change. You’ve come to that point in your life now.” Gary speaks directly to Peter and

appeals for him to change his ways. The co-ordinator asks Rhonda, Peter’s mother, how the offence

affected her. Rhonda: “I was just angry, guilty … I didn’t think he’d do this. He wasn’t brought up to

do these things.” Peter: “Don’t feel guilty, Rhonda. It’s not your fault. You haven’t failed.” Peter begins

to cry. The co-ordinator offers a break and Peter, Rhonda and the co-ordinator leave the room. Gary

is sympathetic, “that poor lad was dumped on by his mates.” Simon, Peter’s mentor, tells Gary that

“he has done a hell of a lot of work to change.”

The conference

68

Impact of the offence

The offence affected the victim ‘quite a lot’ in a third (33%) of cases, followed by 30% of victims whom the crime

affected ‘a little’. According to the remaining eighteen victims (11%), according to their account, the offence had no

effect72. Of these eighteen cases, when the nature of the offence is examined only 4 were ‘personal’ offences. The

remainder were ‘victimless’ offences (eight) and offences against a business or organisation (six). A significant

proportion of victims (24%) indicated that the crime had affected them a lot, and in four cases it ‘totally changed

their life’. Specific effects referred to by victims include:

Table 5.1: Effects referred to by victims at a conference

Other effects referred to by victims included the impact on their colleagues (31 victims), physical injury (21), loss of

trust (15), sleeplessness (4), need for counselling (3), depression (1) and stress (1).

5.6 Conferences without victims

As previously explained, when visiting the victim for the first time a co-ordinator should describe the various

alternative methods by which they can participate if they do not wish to attend in person. A total of 31% of

conferences did not have a victim present, and as illustrated in Table 5.2 below, most conferences that proceeded

without a victim did have some alternative form of victim input. As such, although some victims may not wish to be

directly involved in the conference, unlike the court process it still may be seen to offer them a forum in which they

can present their views.

Table 5.2: Alternative forms of victim participation

Despite the fact that direct interaction with a victim appeared to have a greater impact on the young person than any

alternative form of participation, indirect contributions to the conference sometimes proved successful. The following

case study presents an example of when the victim’s perspective was successfully integrated into a conference:

Form of Participation Percentage

Co-ordinator summarising previous

meetings/ discussions with the victim 34.5

Co-ordinator speaking of the likely

impact on the victim 23.6

A letter or written statement 18.2

Police officer summarising the victim’s

statement 1.8

A tape recording 5.5

Other 16.4

Percentage

Financial effects 45

Fear 31

Feeling unsafe 25

Anger 23

Anxiety 14

72 Notably, 60% of victims were representatives who may not have been personally impacted by the offence.

The conference

69

Case study E: No victim present

Peter has been referred to youth conference by the court for the offence of common assault. He is

attending the conference with his mother and father, Rose and Steven. The victim is unable to

attend, but is happy that the conference proceeds without him and has prepared some questions for

the co-ordinator to ask Peter. Peter has engaged well in the conference, has shown remorse and has

given a full account of what happened from his point of view.

The co-ordinator explains the victim’s physical hurt, time off work, loss of pay and having to stay in

the police station until 4am. They also speak of the emotional effect and explain how it felt to see

their friend also getting assaulted. The co-ordinator reads out one of the victim’s questions: “what

gives you the right to attack someone you don’t know?” Peter: “There is no right … we were just

being a**holes.” In their statement the victim explains that the mobile phone that was stolen that

night was a present from his girlfriend. Peter nods. The co-ordinator asks Peter if he understands.

Peter: “Yes, that he is shocked. It’s not right.” The co-ordinator goes on the explain that the victim

still has the incident in mind when he is in the area and that he hopes it will not happen again, but

would like reassurance. The co-ordinator again asks Peter if he understands: “Yeah, he has been hurt

… losing money. I regret it like. I’m feeling sorry to them for that there happening.” Peter appears to

be impacted by the victim’s statement.

After the conference, in interview, Peter shows further remorse “I regret ever even doing that - it’s my

stupidity”. He explains that he would have liked to have met the victim: “I wish the victim had have

been down - to try and express to him my regret.”

When we examine alternative forms of input more closely, however, it is apparent that where there was no victim

attending their direct input (for example, a letter or tape recording) was only present in a minority (36%) of cases. In

most conferences the victim’s views were either summarised by the co-ordinator or the likely impact on the victim

was conjectured. Notably, where no victim was present direct input was often seen to have a greater impact upon the

young person than discussions of the likely impact on the victim.

Interestingly, the lack of a victim was on some occasions observed to have an impact on the process and the mere

fact that a victim did not attend was seen to affect the young person. This is particularly true where non-participation

was a consequence of fear. In a written account read by the co-coordinator, a relative of the victim explained that the

victim was “scared to meet the young person … scared they would come back.” In another conference, the coordinator

explained to the young person: “we would usually talk to the victim now, but I have had a telephone call

from the victim’s mother and she says he didn't want to get involved in the conference. I did ask for a written

statement, but it didn't come.” This appeared to impact on the young person who responded “it makes me feel bad”

and explained that they had attended in the hope of apologising to the victim face to face.

Conferences with no identifiable victim(s) - such as drug related or driving offences- posed a challenge in the

restorative context where victim / offender interaction is argued to be integral. The lack of a ‘victim’ proved

problematic at some points, particularly in a process in which the structure, language and outcome is very victim /

offender orientated. To illustrate, in one conference involving the offence of disorderly behaviour the young person

had difficulty grasping the somewhat abstract concept of the ‘general public as victim’: “what is the general public? I

don't understand what that means.”

Young person supporter(s)

Engagement

As mentioned previously, the legislation requires that each young person referred to a youth conference must attend

with an appropriate adult or ‘supporter’73. The level of input and engagement amongst supporters varied between

conferences, with some actively engaging and others assuming a more passive role. Observations show that most

supporters were engaged to some extent when discussing the crime; 22% were involved ‘a lot’ and 55% ‘a little’. In

43 conferences the young person’s supporter was not involved at this stage.

73 Section 57, 3A (4) Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002.

When discussing the offence, most supporters spoke up on behalf of the young person either ‘a lot’ (26%) or ‘a bit’

(45%). Many, by invitation of the co-ordinator, described positive aspects of the young person’s life; “he is very

talented academically”; “he has a very nice side to him that people don't see”; and “he has improved at least 90%

from when this happened. He has left school now and got a job”. Where the young person was quiet or having

difficulty articulating their response, several supporters were seen to actively step in; “he finds it difficult to put it into

words - finds surroundings daunting. He has told us how sorry he is and he wishes he could turn back time.” In

interview, one young person appreciated the presence of a supporter for this reason; “when you are on the spot and

you don’t know how to say the right thing they can help.” Whilst most young people’s supporter(s) positively engaged

and supported the young person in the course of the conference, this was not, however, universal. In 30% of

conferences the supporter did not speak up at all on behalf of the young person, and in nine conferences there was

visible tension between the young person and their supporter.

Observations found that most supporters (84%) fed positively into the restorative atmosphere of the conference and

did not in any way mitigate or excuse the young person’s behaviour. Some degree of justification was apparent in

twenty-five conferences (14%) and ‘a lot’ in only four conferences. Most supporter(s) were seen to express ‘a lot’

(59%) or ‘a bit’ (35%) of disapproval that the offence had taken place. In one conference, a supporter disputed the

fact that the young person had been referred to a conference and was defensive of them throughout. Whilst

admittedly acting in support of the young person (who had consented and was willing to participate in the

conference) their negative attitude created a hostile environment and ultimately resulted in a bad experience for the

victim. In a further conference, the supporter made it known to the conference that they felt that the offence was

extremely trivial and that the police were responsible for creating it.

Impact of the offence

Following the young person’s and victim’s account of the offence and its impact, the co-ordinator was observed to

invite the young person’s supporter to provide their perspective on the offence. In most conferences observed, the

young person’s supporters described the impact on them a lot (21%) or to some extent (42%). A total of 37% did not

discuss the impact on them. It should be noted, however, that not all those attending as supporters – for example

social workers or mentors – will have been personally affected by the offence and such discussion may therefore be

irrelevant. Observations found that the young person’s supporter, particularly where they were a family member, often

assumed a ‘dual’ role in a conference. On the one hand, they provided support to the young person however many

were also negatively impacted by the young person’s offending behaviour and therefore were, in a sense, ‘victims’.

This was particularly apparent when the co-ordinator asked the supporter to describe the impact upon them. For

many supporters, this was a difficult and upsetting process and many spoke of feelings of regret, disappointment and

shame which no doubt added to the impact of the conference on the young person;

“I felt angry with him and ashamed. I felt guilty … That I failed him as a mother in some way.”

“Its [young person] who has done it, but you feel like you have done it…you brought him

up…shocked, disgusted with him, ashamed”

“I'm annoyed and ashamed. I had a good relationship with [the victim] and now I suffer from

stress related pain…I didn't bring him up to be like this.”

“I’m really gutted. I mean, I cried like a baby when I heard what happened. I could never have

believed it” and “I felt totally ashamed, everyone would have seen the police coming to the door,

sticking a label on him”.

Often, depictions of the impact of the offence were contrasted with words of support for the young person, “I was

completely shocked and disappointed, however I have to accept that this was his first thing” and “I was disappointed

and sad … I’m not going to defend him – he was in the wrong – but he is not a bad child.” Many supporters

therefore, whilst making the young person aware of the negative consequences of their actions, still assumed a

supportive role. Occasionally, however, some supporters displayed signs of frustration or exasperation towards the

young person and their offending behaviour:

"It’s no big shock he is in trouble, before and since. I can see him ending in the Young Offender's

Centre. He has done things to me, and I'm his mum. He says sorry and then does it again… he has

been caught on CCTV, but would still argue that it wasn't him … Straight to YOC for [young

person] - a short sharp shock is what he needs.”

The conference

70

The conference

71

Such reactions were nevertheless uncharacteristic, and generally the young person’s supporter contributed positively

to the conference.

Relationship with young person

An additional issue of note is that of the relationship between the young person and their supporter, specifically with

regards to young people in a care environment. In a small number of conferences, there was little or no pre-existing

relationship between the young person and their supporter; “she doesn't know me very well”. In such cases, the

supporter appeared merely to be fulfilling a legislative requirement rather than acting in a meaningful supportive role.

The issue of potential role confusion is also of importance as in some conferences, the role of the young person’s

supporter was not clearly delineated. The blurring of roles is not necessarily a negative aspect of conference

processes however, in intra-familial or care contexts this is an issue with which the process must deal. In one

conference the young person’s supporter – who knew both young person and victim – acted more in the role of a

victim supporter. In another, where the young person had two conferences, the young person’s mother was the victim

in the first conference and their supporter in the subsequent one. This blurring of roles was most apparent in cases

involving a young person in care; one victim commented “I can't be a victim and a social worker at the same time …

the victim has to enforce the young person’s plan”.

Overall, most young people interviewed were positive when asked about their supporter; the vast majority viewed

their presence as either ‘helpful’ (23%) or ‘very helpful’ (70%); “when you are on the spot and you don’t know how

to say the right thing they can help”; “they help stic