COMMONS

Government should work towards right to restorative justice for victims

01 September 2016

A legislative right for victims of crime to access restorative justice services is a laudable goal which should be worked towards, once existing concerns about capacity have been addressed, says Justice Committee report.

The Committee recommends that in its consultation on the Victims' Law the Ministry of Justice should seek views on a legislative right to restorative justice and how it should be enforced. The Committee believes that such a right should come into force only once the Minister has demonstrated to Parliament that the system has sufficient capacity to deliver.   

Chair's comments

Committee Chair Bob Neill said:

"We heard extensive evidence of the tangible benefits to victims and the role of restorative justice in reducing reoffending, so it clearly benefits wider society as well. While capacity issues mean that it is still too soon to introduce a legislative right to restorative justice for victims, we urge the Government to work towards this goal."   

Public awareness

However, public awareness of restorative justice remains relatively low, at 28% (PDF 355 KB). The same poll found that 80% of people questioned thought that victims should have the right to meet their offender.

Committee Chair Bob Neill said:

"The priority must be to ensure that victims of crime are properly informed. The Ministry of Justice should focus its resources on ensuring restorative justice is well understood by bodies within the criminal justice system who can then convey this information to victims. A rigorous system should be introduced to improve compliance with the police's requirement to inform victims – perhaps something as straightforward as a box at the end of the victim impact statement form."

Postcode lottery

The Committee also found that restorative justice is subject to a "postcode lottery" and regional buy-in. While ring-fencing funding to Police and Crime Commissioners may appear superficially attractive, it concluded that budgets could not be set up in a reliable or sensible manner – not least because of the entirely voluntary nature of participation. It also found that undue reliance should not be placed on some of the cost savings claims concerning restorative justice.

Best practice

Some witnesses who gave evidence argued that restorative justice would not be appropriate in cases of domestic abuse, and doubts were also expressed about its use in sexual offences and hate crime. The report recommends that it be reaffirmed that "Level One" restorative justice is never appropriate for cases of domestic abuse and that police should be given proper guidance.

However the Committee believes that in principle restorative justice should be available for all types of offence, and that a bright-line exclusion rule would be against the aims of the Restorative Justice Action Plan. Because of the clear risks involved for certain types of offence, it recommends that the Ministry of Justice should work with the Restorative Justice Council to create and fund training and promote best practice for facilitators in such cases.

Recommendations

Other recommendations include:

  • Improving victim engagement in restorative justice in the youth justice system, looking to the example of youth conferencing used in Northern Ireland
  • Creation and dissemination of a data sharing template to help speed up the agreement of data sharing protocols
  • Introduction of a system to ensure more consistent compliance with the Victims' Code requirement to make victims aware of restorative justice
  • Rationalising restorative justice related entitlements under the Victims' Code so that they no longer vary based on the age of the offender
  • The Ministry of Justice should consult with Police and Crime Commissions and others to ensure that there is sufficient capacity to feasibly introduce an entitlement to restorative justice under the Victims’ Code.

Background

The Committee's inquiry into restorative justice, announced on 6 November 2015, set out to assess the effectiveness of restorative justice provision across the criminal justice system, with a specific focus on: 

  • Progress made in implementing the Restorative Justice Action Plan 2014
  • How the entitlements to restorative justice in the Victims' Code are working and their implications for a future Victims' Law
  • The impact and effectiveness of the National Offender Management Service's restorative justice programme to promote the development of victim offender conferencing
  • The effectiveness of delivery across a range of service providers and finding arrangements, including provision made by Police and Crime Commissioners, the Prison Service, the National probation Service, and Community Rehabilitation Companies.

The Committee received 52 pieces of written evidence and held three oral evidence sessions, hearing from 17 people.

The Ministry of Justice defines restorative justice as "the process that brings those harmed by crime, and those responsible for the harm, into communication, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward." It further states that the fundamental element of restorative justice is a dialogue between the victim and the offender. Restorative Justice can provide victims an opportunity to be heard, have input in the resolution of the offence and achieve closure. It provides offenders the chance to face the consequences of their offending and in some cases make amends.

Types of restorative justice

Ways in which restorative justice can be delivered include:

Victim-offender conferencing

  • This involves bringing the victim(s), offender(s) and supporters (such as a partner or family member) together in a meeting. This may be facilitated over distance by use of telephone or video conferencing.

A community conference

  • This includes bringing together the members of a community which has been affected by a particular crime and some or all of the offenders.

"Shuttle restorative justice"

  • This consists of a trained restorative justice facilitator passing messages back and forth between victims and offenders for low level crime and antisocial behaviour.

Neighbourhood justice panels

  • This involves trained volunteers from a local community facilitating meetings between victims and offenders for low level crime and antisocial behaviour.

"Street restorative justice"

  • Also known as "Level One" restorative justice is usually facilitated by police officers between offenders, victims and other stakeholders in attendance at the time of the incident. This is often used in combination with a community resolution or a conditional caution.

It has been drawn to our attention there is an error in paragraph 70 of the report. The report states "The 2016 Queen’s Speech confirmed an intention, first set out in the 2015 Queen's Speech, to pass legislation to "increase the rights of victims of crime.""  In fact the 2016 Queen's Speech did not include a reference to the Victims' Law, and the quotation comes from the 2015 Queen's Speech.

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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