The Restorative Justice Council (RJC), a national quality assurance and advocacy organisation or restorative justice the United Kingdom reacted swiftly on the crisis and released guidelines for practitioners about delivering restorative service remotely. As a part of our #SolidarityOverDistance updates we asked James Simon, the CEO of the RJC about the situation in the UK and their work around the guidance for online work. 

James Simon

How did the current crisis affect ongoing restorative justice cases in your country? 

It had a swift and immediate impact on the delivery of restorative justice across the United Kingdom. Whilst there were some early indications of the actions our Government were likely to take, many service providers faced significant operational challenges in a short space of time.

Did the restricting measures  adapted by the UK Government mean that all face-to-face contact had to be halted? 

The restrictions put in by the our Government had an immediate impact on progressing face-to-face meetings. Restrictions on travel and the requirement for businesses to operate from home wherever possible has meant that practitioners have had to suspend all direct contact with service users. There has also been a significant impact on any cases involving offenders held within the UK prison estate or working with the probation service. Shortly after the lockdown measures were applied, the Ministry of Justice halted all external visitations and redeployed offender management staff, typically those who would co-facilitate cases, to front line duties. This has led to additional difficulties in maintaining contact with those housed in a custodial setting.

What is the impact of the crisis on the work of the Restorative Justice Council? 

Our day to day operations continue as normal, we moved to a remote model of working some time ago, so the immediate impact of lockdown was minimal. The biggest impact on the Restorative Justice Council has been the speed at which we have had to develop interim guidance. Our Standards Committee receive a high volume of enquiries each day which feed into future guidance updates. At the current time, most enquires relate to delivery of online or virtual training. Many training providers are concerned that the measures put in place by the Government may be long term and that virtual learning will become the new norm. This is an area we are currently focusing on within the RJC. 

"Many training providers are concerned that the measures put in place by the Government may be long term and that virtual learning will become the new norm."

The logo of the Restorative Justice Council

How were the guidelines that RJC released about online restorative justice developed? 

Our initial guidance was developed by our Standards Committee; given the urgent need to release this, our normal inclusive approach was not possible. Subsequent updates have been developed in conjunction with frontline practitioners. 

What were your key considerations when collecting these guidelines? 

There were a number of key considerations to take into account when preparing our interim guidance, like most other organisations, the speed at which the current crisis developed required a swift response to our members. Our absolute first priority was to ensure the health and well-being of staff, colleagues, service users and the wider community. We were clear that lower outputs and outcomes were to be expected during this time and that no service should knowingly take unnecessary risks. Our interim guidance did not override the RJC’s core Practice Guidance. We were clear that however practitioners progressed cases during this time, it had to be in line with our existing guidance.

What do practitioners especially need to pay attention to, when they do online work? 

There are a number of areas that practitioners and service providers need to pay particular attention to: 

  • How they manage new referrals
  • Maintaining contact with existing service users
  • Managing risks and ensuring participant safety 
  • Progressing cases remotely 
  • Using online platforms safely                
  • Developing online meeting etiquette
  • Delivering case supervision remotely 

Our Additional Practice Guidance on the Remote Delivery of Restorative Practice provides detailed guidance for service providers and practitioners for each of these points. The RJC continues to monitor the current situation and are in regular contact with service providers across the country. Our interim guidance is updated as and when new information becomes available. 

Are there currently ongoing cases? 

There are some cases which are being continued, however, these are mainly indirect restorative processes. Many providers are continuing with the preparation of services users, where this is possible and appropriate. Some continue to accept new referrals, although contact is made by other means. At this time, we are unaware of any direct restorative meetings taking place, most services are waiting on further Government advice in relation to the reduction of our our lockdown measures. 

Many organisations are adapting to work in a virtual world however, this is dependent on the complexity and taking into account the restrictions of Covid-19. We are gradually collating a range of examples how practitioners are adapting and are encouraged by creativity of organisations in continuing to the meet the needs of their participants. 

What do you think, can restorative practices still be useful to cope with distress now?

Not only do we feel that restorative practices can be useful in managing conflicts and distress now, it has the potential of being an integral part of rebuilding communities post Covid-19. It will provide opportunities for those who have experienced distress, loss and harm, to have a safe platform to start the process of healing. We are developing a network of trained and experienced practitioners to start to plan our long-term response to the current crisis. 

Do you think we can gain anything by this unprecedented situation? 

The current situation provides us with a unique opportunity to better understand the societal impact of Covid-19. From a restorative justice perspective, it restructures our understanding of harm. It is inevitable that individuals and communities will face unprecedented distress, uncertainty and harm throughout this crisis; from the frontline staff to those who have suffered bereavement. Restorative justice offers a platform to acknowledge impact, have an opportunity to ask questions and, where needed, repair and build relationships through a supportive, cohesive and collective restorative response. 

"There are many positives which taken from the way in which our communities are working together and building relationships to support each other."

How do you experience this situation personally? 

It leads to mixed feelings. From a personal perspective it is a time of worry for my family, friends and colleagues but it has also created opportunities to engage differently and to revisit personal and professional priorities. Despite the negativity we continually see within the media, there are many positives which taken from the way in which our communities are working together and building relationships to support each other. It is also heartening to see the collective appreciation for all our frontline workers, from medics, to shop assistants, police to our refuse collectors; all of whom provide us with some sense of normality.