While it has long been possible, therefore, to undertake restorative justice as part of a deferred sentence, it has not been used at the pre-sentence stage in England and Wales since trials sponsored by the Home Office were completed in 2004, according to the Prison Reform Trust. It seems likely, though, that by providing a statutory backing, this Bill will increase the perceived credibility of restorative justice among the Courts and, subsequently, lead to a higher number of court referrals. It is for this reason that the Bill has been described by the Restorative Justice Council as “the biggest development for restorative justice in England and Wales since legislation introducing referral order panels to the youth justice system in 1999”.
Although, unlike in Northern Ireland, it will not be compulsory for judges and magistrates here to offer restorative justice to victims and offenders, the Bill does not set an age limit on the offenders who may participate. This makes it possible that the use of restorative justice at this stage with adults may dramatically increase in the coming years, albeit being limited by, firstly, the capacity of relevant agencies to deliver restorative processes in a given locality and, secondly, the willingness of the Courts to defer sentencing so that a restorative process may take place. The next steps, therefore, are to train and educate judges and magistrates so that they feel comfortable enough to make use of this option, and ensure that there is the capacity to provide a restorative process in every area; a victim who wants to meet their offender should never be turned down because of a lack of service provision.