Good evening. Thank you for the invitation to speak here today. I am very pleased to be contributing to this discussion with Lizzie Nelson of the Restorative Justice Council and Javed Khan of Victim Support, both very important partners in our work to promote restorative justice in the criminal justice system.
My focus today is the government’s approach to restorative justice in England and Wales.
I am an ardent supporter of the principles of restorative justice. It offers an opportunity not only to assist the rehabilitation of offenders but to give victims a greater stake in the resolution of offences and in the criminal justice system as a whole. Victim-led restorative justice can allow us to make inroads into the re-offending cycle, with the triple benefit of victims avoiding the trauma of future crimes, the tax payer not having to foot the bill of more crime, and a rehabilitated offender making a positive contribution to society.
As many of you know far better than me, the evidence for the effectiveness of restorative justice is promising. Analysis conducted by my department of a number of restorative justice pilots showed that 85% of victims who participated were satisfied with the experience and there was an estimated 14% reduction in re-offending.
The government is therefore committed to making use of restorative justice in more areas, and in more circumstances across the criminal justice system.
Crucially, increased use of restorative justice needs to be rooted in local needs and responsive to local crime and re-offending. It needs to be driven by how practitioners, victims and communities want to respond to crime in their area. This is part of a move towards localism where we accept different areas will have different approaches. To ensure restorative justice is delivered in the way most appropriate for each area, we are working with valued partners like the Restorative Justice Council to provide local areas with the tools to make greater use of restorative justice with confidence.
Therefore, as part of our response to lower level crime, over 18,000 police officers have been trained in restorative practices and we are working with 15 local areas to develop Neighbourhood Justice Panels which will bring together the victim, the offender and community representatives to respond to low-level crime by using RJ and other reparative processes.
Further up the system, over £1 million is being provided to train prison and probation staff and volunteers and develop guidance, and we are providing over £600,000 to Youth Offending Teams to provide training to Youth Referral Panel members to deliver more restorative and reparative panels. Provisions in the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act which received Royal Assent on 1 May will also allow courts to make wider use of Youth Referral Orders which are focused upon restorative and reparative outcomes.
All of this work is geared towards enabling local areas to build the capacity and capability to develop and deliver RJ practices which are effective and victim focused.
We also believe there could be a place for restorative justice before the sentencing process for offenders who admit guilt and are able and willing to participate alongside the victim. Pre-sentence restorative justice would inform the court’s decision about what the right type of punishment should be. At this stage, we need to learn more about how this would operate, and hope to work with one or more local areas to test pre-sentence restorative justice out.
To ensure that restorative justice is delivered to a high standard, we funded the Restorative Justice Council’s ‘Best Practice Guidance for Restorative Practice’, and last year the Ministry of Justice and the Restorative Justice Council launched a National Register of Restorative Justice Practitioners and professional qualifications accreditation. This allows criminal justice staff and voluntary sector organisations supporting victims to recommend properly trained individuals who can safely and effectively support victims to participate in restorative justice.
We cannot hope to achieve our aims without the crucial involvement of victims. So I am particularly pleased about our continuing work with Victim Support. One of the key purposes for expanding the use of restorative justice must be to give victims a greater stake and voice in the resolution of offences and in the criminal justice system as a whole.
The government published its response to the consultation, ‘Getting in Right for Victims and Witnesses’ yesterday. There we recognised that, despite the improvements that have been made over the last two decades, victims still too often feel they are an afterthought for the criminal justice system.
We are committed to ensuring that victims get the support they need to deal with the immediate aftermath of a crime and, over time if need be, receive further help, which may include compensation, to put their lives back on track.
To realise these ambitions the government has committed to reviewing and updating the Victims’ Code and the use of the Victim Personal Statement as well as the process for dealing with complaints when something has gone wrong. We will prioritise, as part of this review, how the offer of a restorative approach can be incorporated in a revised Code and whether the Victim Personal Statement could be used as a way of a victim signalling their interest in restorative justice.
The government has also committed to make offenders pay reparation to victims for the harm they have caused. This may be financial – through court ordered compensation paid by the offender to the victim – or indirectly, through revenue raised from the Victim Surcharge which is spent on support services.
We are also providing Victim Support with £38 million in funding per year until 2014 so it can invest in services that are victim focussed; we have put rape support centres on a secure financial footing for the first time, with 65 centres around the country receiving total grant funding of nearly £3 million a year until 2014; and we have further guaranteed funding of £2 million a year for the next two years to fund specialist support for adult victims of human trafficking.
The next significant step in this context has been the government’s consultation on community sentences. I’m very pleased that this included a substantial section on reparation, looking at how we can ensure that restorative justice is more regularly used in the sentences of the court and what more we can do to strengthen the role of victims in it. The consultation closed on 22 June, and we are still busy working through the responses. However, it is clear from initial analysis that there is considerable practitioner enthusiasm for greater use of restorative justice. And I hope to see some constructive proposals that build on what we’ve achieved already.
Our vision, therefore, is for a criminal justice system which understands and addresses the issues involved for victims, offenders and wider communities, responds intelligently and is more effective. We want a system that focuses relentlessly on tackling reoffending, helping offenders lead law-abiding lives and supporting victims. This is why we will continue to work with organisations across the sector to improve best practice, tackle capacity hurdles, extend the use of restorative justice and firmly establish its place now and for the future in the Criminal Justice System.