Ian Marder, a criminologist working as Project Manager at the Restorative Justice Council, writes about restorative conferencing in the UK for the TransConflict web site:
For those of us in England and Wales, however, the Northern Irish youth justice process is probably the best known example of restorative justice being fully integrated into the criminal justice process at this time (albeit only for juvenile offenders). Prior to sentencing, the Courts, in almost all situations, must refer cases to the dedicated Youth Conferencing Service, whose job it is to prepare, facilitate and follow up on restorative conferences involving offenders, victims, and the supporters of both parties. A comprehensive evaluation of this process revealed highly positive feedback from participating victims: 81% preferred restorative conferencing to the court process, while 88% said that they would recommend it to a friend.
In addition, only 6% of plans were subsequently revoked due to non-compliance by the offender, which is particularly interesting when one considers that 26% of the referrals studied were either for serious offences or very serious offences; of the remainder, 53% were for intermediate offences, while only 21% were for minor offences. Importantly, the discretion of the Courts is not affected in Northern Ireland because they retain the power to reject the agreement made at the conference if they feel that it is more appropriate to impose an alternative sentence. [emphasis added]
Marder goes on to discuss pending legislation in England and Wales, which would make conferencing an option for youth and adults pre-sentence. The complete piece may be found here.