The Ministry of Justice should lay the groundwork for a legislative right for victims to access restorative justice services, an influential group of MPs said today.
Reporting on the effectiveness of restorative justice provision across the criminal justice system, the House of Commons justice select committee said it is too soon to introduce a legislative right immediately due to capacity issues, but that such a goal is ‘laudable and should be actively worked towards’.
The committee recommends that changes should be brought in by the Ministry of Justice only once a minister has demonstrated to parliament that the criminal justice system has enough capacity to provide restorative justice services to all victims.
MPs also advise the ministry to produce an information-sharing template to overcome the ‘persistent obstacle’ presented by data sharing in delivering restorative justice.
The committee stops short of recommending legislation to require data sharing, but suggests it could be an option ‘which should not be excluded if non-legislative measures do not prove effective’.
Restorative justice is defined in the report 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.
Restorative justice is delivered mainly in five ways:
- Victim-offender conferencing: bringing the victim and offender, and their supporters together in a meeting;
- Community conference: bringing together members of a community affected by a particular crime and some or all of the offenders;
- ‘Shuttle RJ’: a trained restorative justice facilitator passes messages back and forth between the victim and offender, who do not meet;
- Neighbourhood justice panels: trained volunteers from a local community facilitate meetings between victims and offenders for low-level crime and antisocial behaviour; and
- ‘Street RJ’: usually facilitated by police officers between offenders, victims and other stakeholders in attendance at the time of the incident.
The committee concludes that restorative justice, particularly victim-offender conferencing, has the potential to offer ‘clear and measurable’ benefits to the criminal justice system and wider society.
However, undue reliance should not be placed on a claim made in a 2008 report that £8 is saved for every £1 spent, it warns.
‘This is because [the claim] arose due to a high-performing site within the Home Office trial, applies only to victim-offender conferencing and does not take account of differing levels of cost and effectiveness across different types of offences,’ the report states.
The committee found that restorative justice is currently subject to a ‘postcode lottery’. It expressed considerable concern that restorative justice is being used by police forces in cases of domestic abuse, which risks bringing it into disrepute.
The committee says it is ‘crucial’ that frontline police officers ‘are fully informed of the risks for vulnerable victims’ in such cases.
The Ministry of Justice welcomed the report and said it will consider the recommendations carefully.
A spokesperson for the ministry added: 'It is vital that victims see swift and certain justice delivered to offenders. Under the Victims' Code, which was introduced last year, all victims can now receive information on how they can take part in restorative justice.
'In addition, we have protected the victims' budget, and given police and crime commissioners greater flexibility over the services offered to victims in their areas.'