When I joined the Ministry of Justice the first thing I was told by many people is how victims feel they are left out by the criminal justice system. I know many lawyers must often hear the same thing. I believe restorative justice can play a big part in giving victims a real chance to be heard.
I believe restorative justice has the potential to fundamentally change how victims feel about their experience. I hope by increasing awareness of it we will see more legal practitioners, police officers and institutions feel confident in suggesting it to those they are helping. Evaluations of restorative justice pilots found that 85% of victims who participated in restorative conferences were satisfied with the experience.
Restorative justice is not an alternative to a sentence and will not lead to offenders escaping punishment. Participation in restorative justice activity will not automatically affect the sentence given to an offender; that will be for the court to decide. However, we do know that offenders have reported the experience of facing their victim can have dramatic life-changing impacts on behaviour and help to reduce reoffending.
I am proud that the Crime and Courts Bill currently before parliament proposes placing restorative justice on to the statute book for the first time. It is vital that restorative justice becomes a recognised part of our legal system and there is an option for restorative justice to happen early in the process, even before a sentence is delivered. This means that restorative justice is available to victims at all stages of the process so that, where appropriate, they can opt in at a time that’s right for them.
Restorative justice offers an opportunity for victims to have a say in the resolution of offences, including agreeing restorative or reparative activity for the offender to undertake. It can provide a means of closure and enable the victim to move on. Lawyers will often be well placed to increase understanding of how restorative justice can contribute to the wider criminal justice system, and in doing so help victims find their voice in the justice process.
- Read Ed Reyes's interview with Lord McNally
Lord McNally is justice minister