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Referral Orders most effective sentence in reducing re-offending

An HM Inspectorate of Probation report says Referral Orders are consistently more effective than other sentences in achieving their aims of reducing offending, however improvements could be made to make them more effective.


 The report provides a comprehensive summary of the effectiveness of Referral Orders in achieving their primary aim: to prevent young people reoffending and providing a restorative justice approach to achieve this.

The report states that in the year to March 2015 12,039 Referral Orders were given to young people in England and Wales compared with 10,653 youth rehabilitation orders, 2,387 custodial sentences and 229 other sentences such as reparation orders.

Additionally the report found that published re-offending rates were consistently better for Referral Orders than Youth Rehabilitation Orders and other custodial sentences:

 ‘In the 2013/2014 cohort of cases, the latest data available at the time of writing, the reoffending rate within 12 months was 39.4%, compared to 64.5% for those subject to YRO’

The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 20151 made changes to Referral Orders that widen the options for sentences. Referral orders are no longer automatically revoked where a court gives another sentence (unless it is custodial), and the orders can now be extended or a fine imposed where further offences are committed or where a child is returned to court for non-compliance. See our legal update here.

The report also highlights appropriate use being made of Referral Orders with an Intensive option as an alternative to custody. This, they said, was effective in maintaining a small number of young people successfully and safely in the community, when it had been shown that their risk to others could be managed in that way.2

Some of the recommendations included:

  • The Ministry of Justice/Youth Justice Board should make sure that statutory guidance reflects the findings from this inspection and that statutory guidance, national standards and case management guidance are consistent with each other
  • Undertake national monitoring and oversight of the delivery of referral orders to make sure they achieve their objectives
  • The Ministry of Justice/Youth Justice Board should make sure that training requirements for volunteers and staff support how the work is delivered and the achievement of best practice accreditation
  • Youth Offending Teams should make sure that work on referral orders is of good quality and achieves their objectives
  • Case managers and youth offending panels work together well, with their complementary roles understood, respected and supported
  • They provide effective oversight of referral order work, including of volunteers and youth offender panels
  • All known victims have a timely, fully-informed and effective opportunity to receive an appropriate restorative intervention, including having their voice represented in the youth offender panel
  • Sentencers understand and have full confidence in referral orders and the work of youth offender panels
  • There is good engagement with young people and their parents/carers in the period between sentence and youth offender panel; including an opportunity for them to see, understand and influence reports to panels before they are completed

See the full report here.


It is important for all practitioners to remember Referral Orders are available following a guilty plea in the youth court, the adult magistrates’ court and the Crown Court. Referral orders are available in the Crown Court when a judge exercises their powers to sit as a district judge.3

The high use of Referral Orders, outlined in this report, is an unwelcome reminder that too many cases reach court when they should have been diverted away from court. Practitioners should be alert to cases where children should have been offered triage or youth cautions.

  1. See sections 43-45 Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015  (back)
  2. Paragraph 3.14  (back)
  3. Section 66 Courts Act 2003, also see Paras 3.1-3.2 Referral Order Guidance, MoJ/YJB, April 2015  (back)