This interest was revived soon after the current coalition government took power. In December 2010, their Green Paper "Breaking the Cycle", announced their intentions for key reforms to the adult and youth justice sentencing philosophy and practice. The Ministerial Foreword noted: "There is much work to do in a criminal justice system which is so badly in need of reform ... We will simplify and reduce a great mass of legislation ... We will put a much stronger emphasis on compensation for victims ... I think it is right to describe these reforms as both radical and realistic" (Ministry of Justice, 2010: 2). It soon became clear that the current government wanted to see the development of RJ at three key stages of criminal justice:
- First, as: "a better alternative to formal criminal justice action for low level offenders ... This is a more effective punishment than a simple caution, and builds on local approaches already used by the police" (Ministry of Justice, 2010);
- Second, as a diversion from prosecution (an out-of-court disposal) for cases where prosecution would be likely to lead to a fine or community sentence;
- Third, as a pre-sentence diversionary option for offenders who admit guilt, stating: "They could, therefore, inform the court’s decision about the type or severity of sentence handed down …Greater use of RJ can prevent the feeling of powerlessness which often results from being made a victim. Increased use of compensation and reparation will benefit victims directly while establishing the principle that offenders must take personal responsibility for their crimes." (Ministry of Justice, 2010).
Turning to the youth justice system, the government announced that it will "increase the use of RJ …we will build on the role currently performed by volunteer youth offender panel members and ensure that referral orders have a strengthened restorative approach. We will support panel members to increase their skills and confidence in using RJ in referral orders ... RJ is already a key part of youth justice and we want to encourage this across the youth justice sentencing framework as a whole, drawing on the experience of youth conferencing in Northern Ireland" (Ministry of Justice, 2010).
In December 2012, the Ministry of Justice published its revised Referral Orders Guidance to courts, Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) and Panels (Ministry of Justice, 2012). This followed the first national strategy on RJ. Titled "Restorative Justice Action Plan for the Criminal Justice System", the strategy makes a number of short and long term commitments around four areas: access, awareness, capacity and evidence. The responsible Minister noted during the launch of the document: "Many victims of crime get to see sentences being passed, but it’s not always enough to help them move on with their lives. We know that around 85% of victims who participated in restorative justice conferences were satisfied with the experience. That’s why I want restorative justice to become something that victims feel comfortable and confident requesting at any stage of the criminal justice system. Victims deserve access to a high standard of restorative justice no matter where they are in the country and at a time that’s right for them."
Soon followed the review of the Victims’ Code, although there is very little evidence that serious consideration was given to the impact of the Victims Directive due to be implemented by November 2015. Hence I was particularly proud to have been given an EC grant to run the pan-European project Restorative Justice in Europe: Safeguarding Victims & Empowering Professionals".
What also followed was investment (and commitment for further investment) of funds in RJ. The first installment was given to an organization to train prison staff. Additional funds of £29 million are expected to be distributed to Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to disperse as they think fit at a local level.
However, the biggest development is said to be the passing of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. Part 2 "Deferring the passing of sentence to allow for restorative justice" provides for the diversion of adult cases to a restorative justice practice at the presentence stage. The Act was enacted in December 2013 and courts now have the power to defer the passing of a sentence provided that all parties (i.e. both the offender and the victim) agree. The Act also requires that anyone practising restorative justice must have regard to the guidance that is issued by the Secretary of State. No other formal requirement is stated.
The opportunities as well as the pitfalls for anyone delivering restorative justice in the UK are becoming obvious. Alongside these policy, strategic and legislative developments, there have been some institutional adjustments. As the aforementioned changes are set in motion, any RJ service provider with diligence and prudence to maintain its reach must engage in serious strategic thinking. I argue that the institutional restructures that are being developed will bring the demise of a number of existing RJ providers and the development of those who "fit the bill" or have placed themselves strategically in a strong provision. In my paper Gavrielides, T. (2013). "Where is Restorative Justice Heading?". Probation Junior, Vol IV: 2, pp. 79 -95 I outline my concerns for the future of RJ internationally. More importantly, in my latest book which co-edited with Professor Artinopoulou we "Reconstruct Restorative Justice Philosophy" hoping to help accommodate restorative practice in the current climate and policy reforms.
As governments around the world continue to take interest in restorative justice and set up new strategies, legislation and funds to promote it, their role must be clear. Restorative justice exists in small neighbourhoods, in homes, churches, schools, tents, humid mediation centres and, yes sometimes, in criminal justice agencies and institutions. And this is what makes restorative justice special. It is the community’s way of understanding and dealing with conflict.
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