On the sprawling Twinbrook estate in west Belfast they are known as "hood huggers" - because they talk to criminals instead of kneecapping them.

The volunteers and staff who run Community Restorative Justice (CRJ) stand accused by other critics of operating an alternative policing system promoting republican interests. The future of these pioneering schemes, which sprang up across Northern Ireland after the IRA ceasefire, could be decided today when the government publishes draft guidelines about their conduct.

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