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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Access to restorative justice is a postcode lottery

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New report from the House of Commons Justice Select Committee reaffirms the value of restorative justice but finds that access to RJ remains a postcode lottery.

Restorative justice should be available to all

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.

That’s the conclusion of a new (1 September 2016) report from the House of Commons Justice Committee, simply entitled Restorative Justice. The report is the result of an inquiry launched in November 2015 during which the Committee received 52 pieces of written evidence and held three oral evidence sessions, hearing from 17 people.

Findings

The inquiry considered the effectiveness of restorative justice (RJ) provision across the criminal justice system. The push from the Ministry of Justice has been for high quality restorative justice to be available to victims at every stage of the criminal justice system irrespective of where they are geographically, the age of the offender or the offence committed against them and the Justice Committee came out in support of these objectives in the report. The report focused on the services currently available to victims.

The inquiry examined the evidence base for the effectiveness of restorative justice and concluded that while undue reliance should not be placed on the statistic that £8 is saved for every £1 spent on RJ, there are benefits in both reductions in reoffending and in providing tangible benefits to victims.

RJ and domestic abuse

The Committee explored the debate about the appropriateness of using restorative justice in cases of sexual offences, domestic abuse and hate crime. They received a number of submissions concerned with the appropriateness of restorative justice in cases of domestic abuse in particular.

The Committee acknowledging the real and substantial risks of using RJ in these cases but came to the view that, while restorative justice will not be appropriate in every case, it should not be excluded simply by reason of the type of offence committed. [For further consideration of the use of RJ in offences of sexual violence, please check out this post.]

Punish Forgive Keys Showing Punishment or Forgiveness

Uneven provision

The Committee found that restorative justice provision is currently subject to a “postcode lottery” and regional buy-in. The Committee’s view was that while ring-fencing funding to Police and Crime Commissioners may appear superficially attractive, they did not believe budgets for restorative justice could be set in a reliable or sensible manner —- in part because of the voluntary nature of participation. Interestingly, the Committee quoted a poll conducted on behalf of the Restorative Justice Council which found that public awareness of restorative justice remains relatively low, at 28%. However, the same poll found that 80% of people questioned thought that victims should have the right to meet their offender.

Conclusions and recommendations

The Committee’s principal recommendations and conclusions are:

  • Restorative justice is well embedded in the youth justice system, although there is further work to be done, particularly in improving victim engagement. We recommend the Ministry of Justice looks to the example of youth conferencing used in Northern Ireland.
  • Problems in data sharing have presented a somewhat intractable obstacle to the development of restorative justice. We recommend the creation and dissemination of a national data sharing template to help speed up the agreement of data sharing protocols.
  • There is evidence of mixed compliance with the requirement under the Victims’ Code to make victims aware of restorative justice, and we recommend the introduction of a system to improve compliance.
  • The entitlements under the Victims’ Code should be rationalised so they no longer vary based on the age of the offender.
  • The Ministry should consult with PCCs and Stakeholders to ensure there is sufficient capacity to feasibly introduce an entitlement to restorative justice under the Victims’ Code.
  • It is too soon to introduce a legislative right to access restorative justice services but such a goal is laudable and should be actively worked towards. We believe a right to access such services should be included in the Victims’ Law but that provision should only be commenced once the Minister has demonstrated to Parliament that the system has sufficient capacity.
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