There is no single definition of restorative justice. Restorative justice is seen as a broad approach oriented towards repairing, as far as possible, the harm caused by crime or other transgressions. A core element of restorative justice is active participation by the victim, the offender and possibly other parties (the community).

Much debate exists about which other parties should be involved, and in particular whether criminal justice officials – as representatives of the community or the state – should play a direct role in restorative justice processes.

The distinction is sometimes made between fully, mostly and partially restorative practices.