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The Commissioner’s Response to the Justice Committee Inquiry – Restorative Justice

31st January 2016

Vera Baird QC response to the Justice Committee Inquiry about Restorative Justice.

Progress made by the government to introduce the Restorative Justice Action Plan

I completely agree with and support the Ministry of Justice’s vision for good quality, victim-focused restorative justice to be available at all stages of the criminal justice system.

The government have gone some way to implementing their vision through the introduction of the restorative justice action plan and the key actions with-in it.  Police and Crime Commissioners have played a key role in the delivery of the plan with new powers and responsibilities to commission some key victim services and restorative justice.

In Northumbria we have established a multi-agency steering group to oversee the delivery and maximisation of opportunities for restorative justice and have a shared vision and operating model and aim to deliver success in line with the MoJ action plan that will mean:

  • Victims have equal access to RJ at all stages of the CJS irrespective of their location, the age of the offender or offence committed against them;
  • People have an awareness and understanding of RJ, it’s benefits, what it entails and how to access it; and
  • Good quality RJ is delivered by trained facilitators.

I recognise that the Government are keen to promote restorative justice and through the role of the Victims Commissioner have gone some way in bringing this to life.

In Northumbria we would be keen to see further communication from the government in terms of drawing all threads of the RJ action plan together.  There seems to be opportunities to make a greater impact by drawing some of the threads together.

Actions to see the improvement in the quality of restorative justice are happening at a local level with key organisations in Northumbria working very closely with the Restorative justice Council and towards achievement of the Restorative Services Quality Mark.  As part of this the RJC have made good inroads with local areas to identify and highlight good practice.  I believe more of this work could be done to further share good practice and encourage learning across the country.

The governments promotion of RJ I believe has led to greater awareness of restorative approaches and communications campaigns such as the recent one linked to Restorative Justice Week has provided a good opportunity for local areas to raise awareness whilst delivering key national messages.

It will be important for the work of the Victims Commissioner and her review of restorative justice to feed into this inquiry.  The Victims Commissioner has carried out an extensive piece of work that looks to assess the work of key partners and their plans for restorative justice, challenges and successes.

Restorative Justice Entitlements in the Victims Code and Victims Law

Restorative justice entitlements in the Victims Code have resulted in a far greater focus on the delivery of restorative justice as part of the overall offer of victim services.  It has put a greater emphasis on victim led restorative justice rather than offender and organisation led interventions.

In Northumbria victims have equal access to RJ at all stages, this is demonstrated through-out the victims journey and is embedded in processes such as the victims needs assessment (police led), victims information leaflet and overall ongoing offer as part of the cope and recovery plan.

Police information about restorative justice and the different approaches on offer is captured in an ‘aide memoir’ that supports officers at the scene and when reporting to ensure full consideration and to all restorative interventions.  This is a very important first step for many victims so it is absolutely vital that we ensure the first mention or offer of RJ is right and appropriate.  Victims must make a qualified judgement and to do this the quality of information and awareness from the police, victim services and other restorative justice providers is key.

The information provided by Victims First Northumbria, the victims referral and coordination hub is an essential part of the victims journey and in all cases victim care coordinators are fully trained to facilitator level to discuss options with victims at the right time and in many cases then go on to facilitate the RJ intervention.  The continuity of support throughout the victims journey is a key feature in the building blocks to cope and recover.

We are a firm believer that good quality restorative interventions are far more important than volumes of cases coming to fruition.  From my understanding of the national landscape many areas have had similar challenges as we have had in Northumbria with regards to volume of cases although I must stress that the cases that have been successful in Northumbria have taken many hours and in some cases months of preparation to ensure safe and meaningful engagement.   Restorative justice must be done well, and victims of crime must have confidence in the process.   I welcome any initiative that will give more victims access to safe, high quality restorative justice.

I believe that all victim entitlements with regards to restorative justice should go into law including information about the point of contact, when a restorative approach is offered and the importance of quality; all of these features should be reflected in a Victims Law.  Entitlements put into law must build on the implementation of the Victims Code rather than carry over all existing entitlements carte blanche.  We must learn from the Code and ensure our learning is reflected in any new law.

I respect that all victims of crime should be offered restorative justice regardless of offense type but I must acknowledge that in some cases this is detrimental to a victims ability to cope and recover.  For example we do not routinely make restorative justice available to victims of domestic violence and abuse.  In many of these cases the power disparity and the control that has been exercised by the perpetrator takes a long time to overcome and by reuniting perpetrator and victim in a restorative justice context we highly risk further victimisation.

The Victims Code is clear about making the offer of restorative justice to victims but further guidance is needed on standards relating to the point at which the offer should be made, my understanding locally is that providers take a different approach to this.

Effectiveness of the National Offender Management Service programmes

I am unable to comprehensively provide a view on the effectiveness of individual programmes delivered by the National Offender Management Services.  What I can comment on is the need to work closely with partner agencies to deliver real change, maximise opportunities and deliver real improved outcomes for victims with regards to restorative justice.

In Northumbria for example we have embarked on a joint initiative between Victims First Northumbria, our victim referral and coordination hub and our local Community Rehabilitation Company.  Co-location of key staff will benefit both organisations and help to:

  • Standardise RJ approaches across Northumbria and enrich quality
  • Enhance the ethos of VFN Northumbria as the one stop shop for victim services
  • Sharing of information between agencies providing the best chance of securing a positive RJ outcome
  • Amalgamate offender led and victim led processes

This is a fairly new initiative but one that I believe has a bright and successful future in bringing to fruition RJ cases that not only support the victim to recover from their experience of crime but reduces reoffending with long term impacts.

Effectiveness of delivery of restorative justice across the range of service providers

In Northumbria we have built good working relationships with partner agencies which has highlighted the inconsistency of practice across RJ providers.  My office is leading the way locally to ensure a victim centred consistent approach.

Restorative justice has been a key concept in the vision for improved victim services for at least the past 18 months in Northumbria and it is recognised this is a vision that cannot be delivered alone.

To drive this vision for a ‘Restorative Northumbria’ forward we have established a steering group that comprises of strategic leads from key responsible organisations such as the police, National Probation Service, Youth Offending Teams, Victims First Northumbria, prisons and the Community Rehabilitation Company.

The steering group has played a pivotal role in the shaping of restorative justice provision across the area and also the drive towards the achievement of the restorative quality mark as individual organisations but on a joint trajectory.

This vision and commitment to joint working has led to joint partner conferences, information sharing agreements, joint working practices, protocols and referral process.  All of which have led to the overall embedding of restorative justice in Northumbria as a truly partner led concept.    So much so that we were pleased to recently welcome the Restorative Justice Council to our area who chose to shine a spotlight on the good partnership work of Northumbria.

We have come a long way in a short time to embed the partnership working in Northumbria and we now believe it’s the right time to underpin our working with the shared, recognised standards as outlined in the restorative services quality mark.  We are actively working towards achievement of the quality mark and once this has been achieved we see this as an even greater step towards delivering the services that victims in Northumbria not only deserve but in many cases need as a key building block on their journey to recovery.