It’s really interesting to see how the importance and significance of restorative justice is being boosted under this government. Equally interesting is the way that it’s being redefined. Broadened and linked to the delivery of the Big Society concept, it’s moving from a one and one, victim and offender interaction and crime disposal activity, to a mechanism to flag and signal justice delivery to whole communities, or at least that appears to be the intention.
Nick Herbert, Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, gave a speech to the ACPO and the Restorative Justice Council conference in Manchester last week. The full text of the speech can be found here
The speech clearly indicated the scale and ambition that is held for the development of RJ. As Nick Herbert said “ I believe in restorative justice, and also believe that its potential in the criminal justice system is as yet unfulfilled….I think restorative justice presents such a huge opportunity”.
Clearly less than satisfied with the current criminal justice system mechanisms and processes, he went on “We have built a criminal justice system which can be very removed both from the public and from the victim. A system that can be remote, can be opaque in terms of what it is delivering, and can be very complex. This system can be owned by people who are privileged within it, owned by the law, owned by the professionals in the system, owned by its own complex processes.
It seems to me that what restorative justice is about is not just a new disposal or a new set of disposals. It is about looking at this system in an entirely different way. It is about saying that if every crime has a victim, then we ought to be interested in how victims are regarding the way in which that crime is dealt with. What I’ve said before is that we need a criminal justice system that never stops thinking about the interests of victims. And that is not just a statement of some new form of process; it is actually looking again at what it is we actually expect the criminal justice system to deliver.
More than that, I think we need a system that puts the notion of the responsibility of the offender back at the centre, too. Again it seems to me that restorative justice has the potential to do that”.
There is a clear focus in the speech on redefining the ‘system’ as a service and changing both the language and the approach. Herbert goes on “I believe that we should stop talking about ‘diverting’ from the criminal justice system. Instead of talking about diversion from the system, what we should really be talking about is transforming the criminal justice system. Transforming it into a service and transforming the way it operates. What we should really be talking about is not diversion but reclaiming justice for communities and ensuring that the way in which justice is delivered is not remote and that the system is not opaque.
We should stop talking about diversion because what we want to do is not see restorative justice as some kind of alternative to the criminal justice system. What we want to see is restorative justice and restorative principles embedded in the criminal justice system as a whole and operating at every part of the criminal justice system.
Focusing back on RJ he talks about a much wider remit and application for it.
“This is about taking justice out of the narrow confines of the courts and putting it into the community. I also want to talk about the importance of restorative justice being mainstreamed as a response to crime and antisocial behaviour, and so being absolutely capable of withstanding public scrutiny as an answer to the problems that people are concerned about.
What we must describe is not soft justice, but real justice: a justice that commands community support. What that means, if it’s going to win public support, is that it has to pass a number of crucial tests, tests that I think we should be applying across the criminal justice system, and ones that we cannot simply take as read or pass by.
Restorative justice must be robust and effective in terms of victim satisfaction, it must deliver reductions of re-offending, and contribute to the Government’s key goal of breaking the cycle of crime and high rates of re-offending.
It must contribute to the better outcomes that we seek from the system. This cannot just be a process, something that is undertaken or fulfilled as part of a system. It must be satisfactory for the victim but importantly also fulfil the wider test of being effective in the criminal justice system, commanding public confidence and contributing to reduced re-offending.
What that means is that restorative justice has to be visible and it has to be transparent….We are also looking at instances where a court case is likely to lead to a fine or a community sentence and as part of this we will explore how restorative justice can be used as part of an out-of-court disposal.
For example, it could be used as a condition attached to a conditional caution. This could result in the offender paying compensation to the victim or making good their offence in other ways determined by the victim.”.
He concludes “We really are seeking to apply restorative principles across the system, not just seeing them as an alternative, and we want to make sure that police officers are incentivised in the right way to use these disposals. I’m very encouraged by the way in which this is moving in policing. We know that at least three-quarters of police forces are already using restorative justice as part of their neighbourhood policing. I think there is a huge opportunity here to build on what I think has been such a positive development in the rediscovery of community policing. To build on neighbourhood policing and give officers this power and this discretion to effect this restorative justice.
Offending must always have consequences, and those consequences should not just be punitive. They should also be about making good, about repairing, about paying back to the victim and to society. That is what it seems to me restorative justice can deliver, and that is why it should be a part of the whole system. This is about rethinking justice, and it’s about ensuring that we have a criminal justice service, not a system, a service that never stops thinking about the interests of victims”.
Interesting speech. At a time when Chief Officers and BCU Commanders are intently focused on resources, structures and fast disappearing partnership opportunities, it will be interesting to see how many sieze the RJ agenda and see the possibilities for reshaped, cost effective service delivery that it offers, and how many wait to see just how strongly the initiative wind blows.
- Restorative Justice in Policing
- Reform of the criminal justice system
- Big Society: what does it mean to policing?
- 7 principles of justice reform
- The Government’s vision for criminal justice reform