The new section 24(a) of the Sentencing Act 2002 (effective as of 6 December 2014) means the court must adjourn proceedings to enable enquiries to be made as to whether a restorative justice process is appropriate. It applies if an offender has pleaded guilty, if there are one or more victims of the offence, and if no restorative justice has previously occurred in relation to that offending.

This applies to health and safety prosecutions in just the same way as it applies to what you normally think of as criminal offending. In practical terms it means that if you intend to plead guilty to a charge under the Health and Safety in Employment Act you need to be prepared to attend a restorative justice process with the victim (which could be the person injured and that person's family).

The purpose of the restorative justice conference is to allow the victim to express how the offending has affected them, and to allow the defendant to acknowledge the harm caused. The conference process is typically broken into two parts, so that the coordinator running the restorative justice process will meet with the parties separately and then there will be a meeting of the parties together. Ideally, you would be in a position to make an offer of reparation at that conference, which would later be taken into account at sentencing.

There have been many criticisms about the amendment which includes the fact that it is mandatory with the result that it is turning simple cases into complex drawn out cases. In instances where there are multiple victims it is hard to get them all together at the same time. It is causing delay as a result of funding and capacity issues. There is work in progress to remedy these issues but it is clear that restorative justice conferences are here to stay and they will be a feature of health and safety offences.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.