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.
Tip of the hat to Judge Fred McElrea.