I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Fourth Report of the Justice Committee, Restorative justice, HC 164, and the Government response, Cm 9343.
It is a particular pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, and to move the motion on behalf of the Justice Committee. I am grateful to my Committee colleagues who are here to take part in the debate. We believe that this topic is important and look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the issues we raised.
Restorative justice is defined by the Ministry of Justice 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.”
We heard evidence during our inquiry that restorative justice had been largely offender-led, aimed at the tangible measure of reducing reoffending, but that everyone involved recognised that it was crucial for restorative justice to be initiated by victims and focused on their needs, even if increased victim satisfaction does not have an easily measurable financial benefit. We are now much more alert to issues affecting victims. It is particularly sad that Jill Saward, who did so much to highlight the plight of victims, died only recently; I am sure that every one of us would want to pay tribute to her courage and bravery in this area.
The Committee thinks that refocusing restorative justice to put victims at the heart of the process has been a welcome development. Any reduction in reoffending is of benefit to society and achieving that is a good thing, in any event. Restorative justice can be delivered in various ways, the most well known of which is through a conference or meeting between the victim of a crime, and any of their supporters, and the offender. That can be directly—face-to-face—or sometimes by telephone or video conferencing.
It is worth stressing that victims and offenders are not simply brought together and left to get on with it. A lot of people do not understand how the process works. In reality, expert facilitation and preparation are essential parts of the restorative justice process. That can often involve a lot of work and discussion with victims and offenders in advance of their actual contact with one another in order to explain the process, manage expectations and set out objectives and ground rules. Facilitators are also present during the conference to set the scene and guide the conversation.
According to the Restorative Justice Council, whose work we recognise and pay tribute to, victim and offender conferences can be beneficial both for offenders and victims. The RJC said that for offenders the experience can be incredibly challenging, because it confronts them with the personal impact of their crime. For victims, meeting the person who has harmed them can be a huge step in moving forward and recovering from the crime. I say in parenthesis that my experience of practising for 30 years at the criminal Bar led me to recognise the truth of both those aspects. Frequently offenders—even repeat offenders—had no concept of the human cost of their offending. It is a powerful means of bringing them up sharp and causing them to think differently, and it is part of a cathartic process for victims as well.
The Ministry of Justice is currently working to its third action plan on restorative justice, which was published in November 2014 and has objectives and information going up to 2018. We were advised during our inquiry that the Government were preparing a progress report on the action plan, but that report appears not to have seen the light of day. We have also heard suggestions informally that the Government have been thinking about producing a new action plan to replace the final year of the current action plan. With just over a year left, not much time is left to report on progress or revise the plan for the rest of its lifetime. I hope that the Minister—I welcome him to the debate—will explain what the Government’s intentions are in that respect when he responds.
In the action plan as it stands, the Ministry’s vision is for
“good quality, victim-focused restorative justice…to be available at all stages of the criminal justice system…in England and Wales.”
Within that vision the Ministry has set itself three broad objectives: first, equal access to restorative justice for victims of crime, wherever they are in England and Wales, whatever the age of the offender, and whatever the offence committed; secondly, raising awareness of restorative justice and its potential benefits among victims, offenders, criminal justice practitioners, the media and the general public; and thirdly, ensuring that restorative justice is of good quality, safe, in line with the European Union directive on victims’ rights, focused on the needs of the victim and delivered by a trained facilitator. I hope that even after this country leaves the European Union, we will maintain awareness of that particular directive, which sets out sensible good practice. I am sure that any sensible Government would wish to maintain that, whatever our future relationship with our European neighbours.
We clearly state in our report that we support the aims and objectives of the action plan, welcoming in particular the Ministry’s focus on ensuring that restorative justice services are high quality and focused on victims. During the inquiry we discovered that evidence on the effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness, of restorative justice is not as well developed as it might be. We recommend further work by the Ministry, together with stakeholders, to establish criteria for judging the success of restorative justice in relation both to offenders and to victims.
The Government’s response to our report states that
“work is already underway to develop an evidence base for the effective delivery of restorative justice services and the outcomes achieved by those services.”
I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us a little more about that work, where it is leading and the progress so far.
On restorative justice in general, there is much agreement between the Ministry, other authorities and stakeholders about its use within the criminal justice system. That may mean that there is a higher degree of consensus in this debate than in some other debates we have had on our reports in Westminster Hall—I hope so, because this is an important topic and perhaps an often under-appreciated part of the criminal justice system.
I am conscious that other Members wish to contribute to the debate, so I will briefly touch on four important topics arising from our report, including the restorative justice landscape and funding, and the recent Victims’ Commissioner report on victims’ experiences and perceptions—I am delighted to see the Victims’ Commissioner and the chief executive of her office in the Public Gallery today; they were helpful in their evidence to the Committee. I will touch briefly on restorative justice in domestic abuse and violence cases—my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) will also refer to those matters—and on the potential role of legislation.
I say to the Minister—not simply because he is an old friend and it is still post-Christmas—that we are grateful for, and commend him and the Government for, the comprehensiveness and quality of their response to our report. That is appreciated, and we accept that they have taken the report seriously. However, we still have a number of concerns and might want to push him to be a bit bolder and go a bit further and faster, but we recognise the spirit in which the response was delivered.
Let me touch on the landscape of restorative justice and funding. A range of bodies within the criminal justice system are responsible for the funding and delivery of restorative justice at various points in the system. The primary responsibility for provision lies with police and crime commissioners, within their overall remit for delivering victims’ services. Some £29 million was made available to police and crime commissioners over the past three years for restorative justice, although it was not ring-fenced; it was within an overall provision for victims, which stands at £63 million in 2016-17. The Ministry of Justice has provided other funding to the Youth Justice Board to build restorative justice capacity within youth offending teams, and the National Offender Management Service has also spent money to build restorative justice capacity.
We were pleased that the Government accepted the thrust of our recommendation that annual collation and publication of information on spending by police and crime commissioners on restorative justice would be helpful in assessing progress on the action plan and supporting an evidence base to test the effectiveness of restorative justice. However, they did not make a firm commitment to do so. I press the Minister again to make that firm commitment, following what seems to be the spirit and tenor of the Government’s response to our recommendations. The Government response states that the overall victim services budget has been protected over the spending review period to 2020-21. Can he confirm how much funding will be provided within that envelope to police and crime commissioners for restorative justice capacity building?
Let me turn to the Victims’ Commissioner’s report. Shortly after the Government responded to our report, another important report was published, fittingly enough during International Restorative Justice Week last November. The second part of the commissioner’s report on restorative justice examined victims’ experiences and perceptions of restorative justice, on the basis of 35 interviews with victims. It is worth saying that the first part of the review examined the subject from the perspective of providers. The second part of the report raised several issues of concern, on which it would be helpful to hear the Minister’s views.
First, as I said, the Government allocated £23 million to build capacity for restorative justice between 2013 and 2016, but the crime survey for England and Wales shows that only 4.2% of all victims of crime were offered restorative justice in the year to March 2016, the lowest percentage since 2010. What will be done to ensure that restorative justice is offered to victims in accordance with their entitlement under the victims’ code? What do the Government intend to do, or encourage others to do, to raise awareness of restorative justice to meet those objectives?
Our report recommended that the main means of raising awareness should be through criminal justice: effectively, it should be mainstreamed into the system through various agencies. What we discovered, though, was that when restorative justice is offered, it is often during the later stages of the criminal justice process. Nearly half of victims in the Victims’ Commissioner’s review said that they were informed of restorative justice only after the offender had been sentenced. That is not in line with the vision in the Government’s action plan to make restorative justice available at all stages in the criminal justice process, including pre-sentencing or as part of the conditions for an out-of-court disposal. Does the Minister recognise that point, and do the Government plan to address it?
What plans do the Government have to increase the use of restorative justice as part of the conditions attached to community orders or suspended sentences? When we visited north America as part of our inquiry, we were struck by the amount of use made of restorative justice as part of a robust set of out-of-court disposals or, in our language, community types of disposal. We think that more could be done here in the UK as well.
Let me turn to domestic abuse and violence cases. One of the most difficult and sensitive questions to address is the suitability of restorative justice processes in cases of domestic abuse and violence. In our report we set out the concern, expressed to us in evidence by Women’s Aid and others, that restorative justice was potentially harmful. It was put to us that it could be
“another way for a perpetrator to continue their control and abuse.”
Again, it is timely to review the topic, because that point is not dissimilar to the one made about cross-examination by litigants in person in family courts, and I am delighted to see the Government taking steps to prevent such abuse. There is a concern that the same sort of risk could arise in the restorative justice process.
Of particular concern to us, and I think to Ministers too, was evidence that restorative justice was being used at level 1—at street level, to put it in everyday language—by police officers in domestic abuse cases, contrary to police guidance. We are pleased that the Government’s response stated that they were considering with the police how to reinforce the message that such unsophisticated level 1 restorative justice is not appropriate in such cases.
More generally, our report expressed the view that, in principle, restorative justice should be available for every type of offence. However, given the clear risks in the use of restorative justice for certain types of offence, we recommended that the Ministry should work with the Restorative Justice Council to create and fund training and promote best practice guidance for restorative justice facilitators. It is an area where care and discretion are needed, particularly in domestic abuse cases. We were pleased that the Government response stated that they were producing a paper setting out the issues that need to be addressed, including any guidance or training, before restorative justice is taken forward in domestic abuse cases. When he replies, will the Minister let us know what progress is being made on that paper and when it is likely to see the light of day?
Finally, I turn to the victims’ code and what is sometimes referred to as a potential victim’s law. One of the starkest anomalies in relation to restorative justice is that victims’ rights are stronger for victims of offenders under the age of 18 than others. In cases where the offender is under 18, victims are entitled to be offered restorative justice by the relevant youth offending team where it is appropriate and available. Victims of adult offenders have a rather weaker right to receive information about restorative justice, including about how they can take part. That anomaly seems to have arisen for historical reasons rather than any other, particularly logic, so we recommended that the code should be strengthened to bring the rights of victims of adult offenders into line with those of victims of young offenders.
On that recommendation, we found the Minister’s response disappointing. The Ministry said:
“We continue to keep the Victims’ Code under review and will consider the Committee’s recommendations the next time we consult on changes.”
I urge the Minister to be a bit more specific. I would never accuse my right hon. and learned Friend of sitting on the fence, but the Government need to be more specific about where they stand on the issue. It seems to us that the evidence makes a clear case that that anomaly should not exist. It would not be difficult to rectify, although I grant that it might require legislation. Do the Government acknowledge that in a victim-focused restorative justice system, which is the Government’s objective and one that we agree with, there can be no good reason for victims’ rights to differ, purely arbitrarily, depending on the age of the offender? I hope that he will give us more detail on that point.
Things have gone quiet since the undertaking in the 2015 Queen’s Speech to put key entitlements under the victims’ code into a victims’ law. A Green Paper on the victims’ law was expected before the summer recess last year, but it has not appeared. We noted that a number of amendments concerning victims’ rights have been made in the House of Lords to the Policing and Crime Bill. On the question of victims’ right to restorative justice, we made what we thought was a nuanced recommendation on introducing a statutory right. We said that due to questions about the capacity to provide restorative justice services, it was probably too soon to bring a statutory right into effect—there is not much point having a statutory right if it cannot be delivered and used—but we felt that the power to introduce such a right, when appropriate, should be conferred by legislation on Ministers. We know that a significant Ministry of Justice Bill is forthcoming. Without risking overloading it even more, it might be an opportunity to consider that. I would be interested to know what the Minister feels about that.
In their response, the Government were equally guarded, saying merely:
“Careful consideration is being given to suggestions made by the Victims’ Commissioner and others about key rights and entitlements that might be set out in a Victims’ Law.”
Given the wider debate about the desirability of a victims’ law and about what it might contain, I must press the Minister to be more forthcoming about the Government’s intentions for such a law, which has long been heralded, and what provisions for restorative justice rights it might make.
Those are the issues I wanted to address in opening the debate and the key issues that our report raised. I know that other hon. Members wish to participate, so I will leave my observations there.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I am grateful for the opportunity to follow my friend—in this context—the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), who as Chair of the Justice Committee has ably steered our report and brought our conclusions to the House. He covered a number of the report’s points and I do not wish to go over the same ground; I just want to focus on a couple of issues and perhaps focus the Minister’s mind on a couple of the report’s key points and recommendations.
It is clear to all members of the Committee—and, in fairness, I think to the Government, too—that restorative justice has a value. It is a useful tool for helping people who have committed crimes to understand the impact on the victims and, through that process, for helping to prevent reoffending. There is general agreement from the Justice Committee, the Opposition—I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees) in due course—and the Government that there is a valuable role for restorative justice. Indeed, when I held ministerial roles, I propagated restorative justice both in Northern Ireland and in the United Kingdom as a whole. There is a genuine understanding of it.
The right hon. Gentleman may recall that when he and I served on the Crime and Courts Bill Committee, we both made common cause for the restorative justice condition for deferred sentences, so that it had a stronger footing.
Indeed. As I say, there is common ground across the House, the various parties, the Justice Committee, this Government and, I believe, the previous Government to ensure that we can facilitate restorative justice. There is evidence—it is anecdotal, so we might not give it too much weight—that every £1 spent on restorative justice can save £8 in further costs down the line. That is important.
The Government’s commitment of £29 million, in their November 2013 plan, to help the development of restorative justice is supportive and indicative of the progress that needs to be made. However, I want to press the Minister on a couple of points, if I may. First, I would welcome some clarity from him on what the £29 million, which we have discussed in the Justice Committee, has been spent on. Has it been spent on restorative justice? I ask because it was not ring-fenced, but was part of a general grant. Has he produced a list of projects that benefit from that £29 million investment? If it is being spent on restorative justice, is it for local decision making? What is the Government’s assessment of what works best for restorative justice? Simply pouring £29 million centrally to police and crime commissioners without a ring fence and hoping that it will develop the seedcorn of good, positive, evaluated, determined restorative justice may not be enough; it may need a little more central direction from Government.
That point leads me to recommendation 66 of the Committee’s report:
“The Ministry of Justice is well placed to take a leadership role in restorative justice and set out a clear overall vision for how it expects restorative justice services to be delivered.”
The Ministry responded to our recommendation—I would be grateful for the Minister’s concentration on this—in paragraph 17 of the Government’s response:
“The Government agrees it is important that all relevant parties have a common understanding of how restorative justice works within the criminal justice system in England and Wales. We will consider the points raised by the Committee before publishing a progress report.”
With due respect, that is civil-service speak for: “We don’t know what we’re doing at the moment and we’d like to come back to it later.”
The test for the Minister is whether he can give some indication today of how he envisages a viable restorative justice scheme that avoids the postcode lottery that our report referred to. That might be through effective use of the £29 million; it might be by picking from operational schemes that the Ministry of Justice thinks are working well, have an output and have proved successful in reducing offending and giving victim satisfaction; or it might be from both those things. It is important that he focuses in his reply on how he envisages ensuring that people in north Wales get the same services and opportunities as people in south Wales, in Hertfordshire, in Bromley and Chislehurst and in every other part of the United Kingdom—perhaps even in Ribble Valley, Mr Evans.
We need a collective understanding of what is available, so that people do not feel left out because they cannot access a service. I recognise that we cannot deliver everything or concentrate on everything. The Minister’s response to paragraph 66 therefore needs to look at the key issues: what works, what is good value for money, what gives best victim satisfaction, what most reduces reoffending and how individuals become aware of the offer in the first place.
Our report refers to the understanding of restorative justice. I have to go back to a point that I know Members will be aware of: someone minding their own business who suddenly becomes a victim of crime may not necessarily know what the courts and the police service do, what restorative justice is, how it is available, what benefit it might bring to them or what it might do to prevent future victims from going through the same experience. Until the day someone is a victim, they are not focused on the criminal justice system. I therefore ask the Minister not only what is available, whether it is a postcode lottery and how the funding is used, but how victims become aware of the facilities and support available in their local area. If the Government’s direction of travel is towards localism, how does someone in north Wales who is minding their own business today, living their life peacefully and not expecting to be a victim of crime, but who wakes up as a victim tomorrow, know that such services are available? How do they know how to access them? How are they helped through at a local level?
Those questions take us back to the postcode lottery. I have no problems with devolving funding to police and crime commissioners or local services through community rehabilitation companies, the voluntary sector or other means, but my test for the Minister on his responsibilities is how he assesses what works, who is doing it and whether it is happening. If he is putting a pot of money in, how does he know that it has been delivered at a local level? I would welcome it if the progress report promised in paragraph 17 of the Government response considered those points.
Finally, I would welcome some information from the Minister on what progress has been made on the victims’ law. As the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst mentioned, it was promised in the Conservative manifesto and there was promise of a Green Paper and of legislation. However, we will have a Gracious Speech in May and there is still no Green Paper on a victims’ law. There may be reasons for that. I understand that this is a five-year Parliament—I believe it is—and if that is the case, it might be helpful to people who are interested in this topic for the Minister to say, without breaching any confidentialities, at what stage in this five-year Parliament he expects to bring forward the Green Paper and at what stage he expects the legislation to be in place, to give some support to the principle of the victims’ law, on which, again, I would expect general cross-party co-operation.
With those comments, I hope I can encourage the Minister to respond in a positive way to what is a positive report.
Order. Just for hon. Members’ guidance, I shall be calling the wind-ups at 2.27 pm, which will allow 10 minutes each for the Minister and the Front-Bench spokespeople, and then three minutes for Mr Neill to speak at the end. I am sure that hon. Members can divvy up the remaining time among themselves.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans.
The difficulty of coming after the previous two speakers is that they have said everything about the report, and I am scrabbling around to find things to say. However, I will concentrate on two issues. The first is domestic abuse and the second is the youth area. On the one hand, domestic abuse is an area where restorative justice perhaps needs to be restricted—or done very well—as opposed to the youth area, where we should use it more and where it should be firmly embedded in the system.
I turn first to the domestic abuse situation. I fully accept the conclusion that we reached as a Committee: that restorative justice should not be excluded from particular types of offence. I do not think that domestic abuse should be outside of the restorative justice area. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) will say, in the Thames valley, for example, restorative justice is done very, very well, which is a good example of how things can be brought together. Although some police and crime commissioners do not seem to offer restorative justice in domestic abuse cases, I do not see that as justified, for the reasons I have given.
During the Committee’s inquiry, we heard evidence on this point from both sides. We were told about one victim of abuse who talked about how they were “empowered” by restorative justice in a domestic abuse situation. They said:
“When I walked out of that meeting, I felt as if I could knock out Mike Tyson. I could have taken on anything or anyone.”
That is a very powerful statement about the liberating effects that restorative justice has for some people.
On the other hand, we heard from organisations such as Refuge, which argued that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) has said, restorative justice simply provided offenders with a means of exerting more control over their victims. That point needs to be taken into consideration and examined very carefully; I will say something about it later, when I consider the context of how the police operate in this area.
It was interesting to hear from the then Justice Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who said that
“it is absolutely wrong for anybody, whether it be the police or any other part of the criminal justice system, to push and cajole someone into restorative justice.”
I completely agree with that sentiment. It is fine to have restorative justice as part of the domestic abuse landscape, but it is wrong to force people to use it.
However, whichever side one comes down on regarding restorative justice, what we cannot have is restorative justice being applied differently in different areas across the country. That goes back to what the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) said about the postcode lottery, or, as I have said, the possibility of people being pressurised to take part. Again, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has already mentioned, this comes down to how restorative justice is applied in domestic abuse cases and whether it occurs at the street level—the so-called level 1 area. Whatever the Ministry may think about how things are operating, the evidence we heard was that level 1 was still being used by the police. That is something we completely disagree with. I accept that the Government are going to talk to the police about this, but the Government need to emphasise that that should not take place. Street level is the wrong location for restorative justice and using it there takes away all the subtlety and all the benefits that can come out of it.
A tremendous amount of guidance can be provided by the Ministry of Justice for the police. Also, a greater degree of training on restorative justice can be provided by the Ministry right across the board, but particularly in the domestic abuse area, to take this issue forward. I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed exactly what the Ministry is doing to achieve that.
The second area I want to touch on is the youth system, where I think restorative justice could be used more. We were heartened by how extensively it seems to be used in the youth justice system. I think it is already embedded, but more can be done to ensure that it is firmly part of the youth justice system. Restorative justice helps both victims and offenders to understand what has occurred, what the implications are and why the offence should not be committed again.
As we pointed out in our report, Northern Ireland has youth conferences, which can occur both before and after conviction. However, I understand from the ministerial response to our report that the Ministry is not looking at restoring those for the rest of the country outside of Northern Ireland. I would ask the Minister to have another look at that and see whether there was not something in Northern Ireland that we could apply elsewhere in the UK.
I am not a member of the Justice Committee, but I thank its members for raising the issue of restorative justice and for calling for more support for it.
I am a long-standing prison volunteer, although in a very modest way, so I know about the benefits of restorative justice programmes from offenders and former offenders I have talked to. Consequently, I endorse the calls that we have heard today for greater support to be given to RJ programmes.
If Members will allow me, I will add to the debate the words of an offender who is still serving a sentence. I talked to him on Christmas day and he has given me permission to tell colleagues about his experience of the RJ course. He said to me on Christmas day, “People here think they’re here just out of bad luck, but considering the consequences of your action can make you think.” He went on to say, “I was really angry, but the RJ course gave me an opportunity to take responsibility for my actions”.
I asked this offender to write to me and he wrote a very long and thoughtful letter; he must have spent a lot of Christmas day writing it, and I thank him for it. He wrote that the RJ course he completed, which was the Sycamore Tree course, was a six-week course for 20 offenders that is staffed by volunteers who give up one afternoon weekly over that six-week period to come into the prison. The ratio of volunteers to offenders is 1:1.
I have attended part of that course myself, particularly the sixth week, when offenders summarise what they have learned and speak about the changes within themselves that have occurred, and it is very moving and quite profound. The young man wrote about
“the stand-out watershed moment when a victim of crime comes in to discuss her/his situation. The power of this…conversation cannot be over-emphasised. Our case dealt with ‘Lyn’”—
I do not think that is her real name, because he puts it in inverted commas—
“who recounted the tale of how her son was murdered in Liverpool. This tale struck a chord with all in the room. The first-hand experience and a media presentation of holiday photos and photos from this young man’s life rammed home the message of the consequences of crime. The subsequent letters to Lyn from prisoners is a testament to the lasting power of her presentation. All prisoners should be exposed to such raw emotion.”
The young man said that it was such a positive tool for him and others.
The young man’s perspective on restorative justice was that
“it is the mind of the offender we are seeking to change…Many prisoners believe they are only in prison due to bad luck.”
In other words, “I got caught and many others do not.” He said that he was really angry before he did the course, but that it was a way for him to take responsibility for his actions. Early in his letter he says that prisoners
“must accept their own culpability. This is the first step in an RJ approach.”
I remember one former offender who was a burglar. He used to burgle houses regularly in the middle of the night. He would go home and by 5 am he was fast asleep, never having a thought about the householder he had burgled. He never once thought about them as a victim.
The young man who wrote to me said that he had been “cynical” about the approach taken in the RJ course, particularly because it was somewhat repetitive and a little childish at times. He said there were
“sketches of a burglar saying, ‘She deserved to be burgled as she left the window open’”,
but, as he said,
“chaps really do think like that.”
By exposing them to their faulty thinking, they see that their actions are wrong. Powerfully, he said:
“The scales falling from my eyes with this method allowed me to release the anger that was dwelling in me.”
In another perceptive comment, the young man said,
“RJ allows the offender to recognise their culpability, accept their actions are directly responsible for their circumstances and realise their family are victims of their incarceration…individuals, especially young men, need to be supported…to stop the cycle of shame and rejection”.
He said that through an RJ discussion, the cycle and sense of hostility can be stopped and
“remorse and forgiveness comes into play.”
Profoundly, he said:
“The past cannot be changed, but correct actions in the future can atone for incorrect actions of the past.”
In the letter, he gave a quote—I think it is someone else’s words, but clearly they made great sense to him—which was that the RJ process could
“lift the fog of misunderstanding, intolerance and recrimination that can entirely obscure the offender and victim, but with an RJ meeting a richer perspective may be seen and in time, may even draw them closer.”
In other words, he said that such meetings can change both sides, as the one with “Lyn” obviously did for him.
The young man said that the RJ approach clearly helps to stop reoffending, but that to be as effective as possible, it needs to be linked with other forms of support, whether that is education, drug rehabilitation, employment, training, family contact and what he calls “engaging in the community”. He described the example of members of the Hallé orchestra, who come into the prison I volunteer in and help young people learn instruments. Indeed, on that Christmas day morning, one of the young men gave us a remarkable performance of six different tunes, including Christmas carols, on a brass instrument that he had been learning with the Hallé for only 20 weeks. The young man who wrote to me said that contact like that can
“act as a lifeline to save them from being drowned by reoffending.”
He very much sees RJ as effective, but said that it must sit with other forms of constructive activity. Finally, he said:
“The first step in getting society to change its opinion of prisoners is in getting prisoners to change their opinion of themselves.”
I am in an even worse position than my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) in following superb speeches from all those who have spoken in the debate. They leave me with very little to say, but it is worth summing up by saying that we all know that restorative justice saves money by breaking the cycle of reoffending, and we all know that it plays an important part in victim recovery. What we have to do now is ensure that all those who need to benefit from it can benefit from it. I will try to find a few crumbs that have not yet been touched on.
It is always a great pleasure to speak in Justice Committee debates and to take part in the Justice Committee. Our report was particularly positive, as was the Government’s response, and that has not always been the case with our reports. We welcome that as a Committee, particularly given the importance of the issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) spoke about the prisoner perspective, and I would like to touch on the issue of victims. I draw the attention of those present to an excellent website organised by Why me?, representatives of which are present here today. It is a fantastic website. If people have 10 minutes later today or in the near future, it is worth a look. I will not read out any of the case studies, because Why me? specifically asks that that is not done, but it has excellent studies from victims’ ambassadors on the website. I encourage anyone who is not yet convinced or knowledgeable about restorative justice to look them up. The case studies make it clear that restorative justice helps a wide range of people, all of whom have had their own very different experiences of the criminal justice system. Some lost loved ones, but found that meeting the perpetrator helped them to come to terms with that loss. Other victims have seen their confidence restored from an open dialogue with the offender. That is a plug that I would make again and again; the website is worth while.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) said, the Victims’ Commissioner is with us today. She is a brave lady and an example of the many people in this field who have made something really positive out of their own tragedy. She brought out a report on victims’ perspectives in November. One statistic that I highlight—I do not think it has been mentioned—is that only 4.2% of all victims of crime are offered restorative justice. That is a very small percentage, and I know that everyone in this room is working hard to increase it. It is clear that much more needs to be done to raise awareness of the benefits of restorative justice. Only with raised awareness will the uptake increase.
Another concern expressed by the Victims’ Commissioner that I do not think has been touched on is that restorative justice is often offered far too late. Nearly half of the victims in her review said that they were informed about restorative justice only after the offender had been sentenced, and that brings me to one of the major barriers to the provision of restorative justice, which sadly is the considerable pressures facing our prison service at this time. It is clear that used properly, early and often, restorative justice can help us to reduce the prison population by helping to reduce reoffending. At the moment, with the considerable difficulties experienced with prisons, prison officers have limited time for supervision and building up the relationships that we know aid rehabilitation.
It is even difficult at the moment to find sufficient staff to move prisoners to the rooms they need to go to for restorative justice sessions. The NOMS capacity-building programme that was launched in January 2012 included training delivered by Restorative Solutions. It had limited success because of the organisational changes and difficulties in the Prison Service. It may be unrealistic to expect major advances in restorative justice in prisons until the bigger issues of staff shortages and safety are tackled. Nevertheless, governors should be instructed to facilitate meetings wherever possible and to view that as part of the wider picture in reducing reoffending and the number of people in our prisons.
We are currently half way through the pilot on restorative approaches to conflict resolution in prisons. Would today be a good moment for the Minister to comment on the data that have come in to date? Otherwise, we will not hear for probably another year; I believe that the pilot is ending in the autumn and then responses will have to be collated. If possible, it would be helpful if he could comment on the material that has come in and the response of the Ministry of Justice to it.
There is a widespread lack of understanding of the benefits of restorative justice. We need to ensure that other parts of the criminal justice system, including the police, the probation service and other charitable organisations, play an increasing role in delivering restorative justice. We need to provide consistent solutions across the country, as the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) said.
At the moment, we find pockets of real success. I am glad to say that in my own area, as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley mentioned, the Thames Valley restorative justice service has been a leading light in the field. It recently celebrated its 15th anniversary and has worked closely with the Ministry of Justice throughout that time. It was one of the first organisations in the UK to be awarded the Restorative Justice Council’s restorative service quality mark and has, at its centre, a belief in a sense of fairness and inclusion. In its written evidence to our inquiry, which I found particularly helpful, it made it clear that a proportion of the service’s time is now rightly spent assisting other areas with restorative justice programmes, pointing out that,
“provision of RJ services is patchy and inconsistent across the country and different areas may be resourced to deal with different types and seriousness of crime. For example, some areas will work with sexual offences and some won’t, some prisons will support facilitation in such cases and some will not. Some areas appear not to be resourced to provide any RJ service provision whatsoever.”
Sharing best practice is essential. I welcome the Government’s commitment to work with police and crime commissioners, who will undoubtedly play a part in that, but I am not sure they can or should remedy the inequalities of provision all on their own. It has been helpful to have information on the spend of individual PCCs for the preparation of the report. I am glad that the Government are considering publishing those figures as we go forward, as well as, more generally, a progress report on the nationwide state of restorative justice. I would be grateful for anything the Minister can tell us about the frequency and detail of such publications.
Data sharing is a persistent problem, and I draw attention to the sections of the report that deal with that in some detail. We welcome the Government’s work in preparing a national data-sharing toolkit. That work cannot be done soon enough.
This is a positive report, with a positive response from the Government, but these are still very early days for restorative justice. I look forward to it becoming a fully integrated and properly used part of the criminal justice system.
I see that I am starting four minutes late; with the snow gathering over the Ribble Valley and the west coast main line heading towards Dumfries and Galloway, you will no doubt be pleased, Mr Evans, that I will not be taking my allocated 10 minutes. There is no need for me to reiterate the comments that have been made, the extensive conclusions of the report or the positive response from the Government, but I will sum up, make some comments on the points that have been raised today and add a few brief points of my own.
I add my support to the praise from the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) for the Chair of the Justice Committee and my good friend, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill). He steers the Committee very ably and I have been impressed with his work during my time in this place. He started the debate succinctly, describing this as an important issue, and he was right to say that this should always be victim-based, but that victims should never be forced to go through the process. He was also right to say—this was corroborated by other hon. Members—that awareness is absolutely crucial. I would add to his call for the Minister to explain how we can better improve the measure of the effectiveness of restorative justice.
The right hon. Member for Delyn, who brings a wealth of experience, made the point clearly that there is common ground and consensus. It is not often that the Justice Committee produces a report that has that consensus, and I think that the Government’s response corroborates that position. He also made the crucial point about awareness. He gave a very vivid description of somebody going about their life, having never been involved in the criminal justice system, who becomes a victim of crime. The prospect of that person being asked to meet the offender of the crime, without knowing anything about restorative justice or understanding what it is that they are going to be doing, could be counterproductive and might set things back rather than moving them forward—moving forward is the principle we are all striving towards.
The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) talked vividly about the effects and reiterated some of the vivid evidence that we heard in Committee, particularly the phrase used by one victim that they felt they could go and “knock out Mike Tyson.” Although that was clearly a liberating experience for the victim and had a tangible confidence-building effect, perhaps that course of action might be counterproductive to what we are trying to achieve, although I think we all understood what she was trying to say. The hon. Gentleman made a point about consistency of approach and the fact that it is more widely used in the youth justice system, which I suppose is for obvious and good reasons.
The hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who is not a member of the Justice Committee, put us all to shame by explaining extensively all the constituency work she was doing on Christmas day. I did send a couple of messages but clearly did not work as hard as she did. I was very taken by the letter she received from her constituent who had been incarcerated, and I was struck by her point that the first step to rehabilitation is when an offender starts to understand the consequences of their crime, departs from the position of, “Well, they left their window open so they deserved it” and starts to understand how the victims feel. That is the first step in rehabilitation. It was a powerful point well made—but I urge the hon. Member to take some time off over the next festive season.
The hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) said that, rather peculiarly, she was stuck for words, but clearly she never is. She was right to point out that the Government response was positive, and to criticise the fact that only 14% of victims are offered restorative justice.
Only 4.2%, which is a rather shocking figure, when Opposition parties, Government parties, Ministers, stakeholders and interested parties all agree that restorative justice has a crucial role to play. If we do not strive to increase that figure, we surely ought to feel a wee bit ashamed.
I am a progressive social democrat; I believe in rehabilitation and community justice, and I do not believe in short prison sentences. I believe that victims, wherever possible, should have the option of restorative justice across the criminal justice system, although it should never be compulsory. It can provide closure and can be the first step in the rehabilitation of offenders.
In Scotland, we use restorative justice across the criminal justice system. The procurator fiscal can even use it as an alternative to prosecution. It can be used from the point of arrest to the point of release from incarceration. Of course, it is not perfect and we still have much more to do, particularly on the point of raising awareness, and I think that point is the most powerful one to come out of today’s debate. It is all very well having a system of restorative justice, but if victims and offenders do not understand the principles and the process and embrace them with open arms and an open mind, it will fail to work. We have to increase the numbers, but we also have to dramatically increase awareness.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I thank the Chair of the Justice Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), for his customary eloquent delivery. I commend the work of his Committee, of which I used to be a member, and thank all the hon. Members who have given some tremendous contributions today. I will do my very best not to repeat anything that has been said. Overall, I strongly agree with the key issues highlighted in the report as being the most salient to progress restorative justice. It clearly identified the key blockers to restorative justice in England and Wales.
It is excellent that all offences and all points of the criminal justice system are to be treated the same, in terms of victims’ access to good-quality services, in line with many countries in mainland Europe and elsewhere, such as New Zealand, Canada and Australia. I am glad that there is the caveat that there needs to be scrutiny of properly trained staff, especially for specialised areas such as domestic abuse and sexual offences. We know that victims can and do benefit when restorative justice is offered and facilitated with supportive systems wide of restorative justice, but there is a danger that it can become a profit-making industry unless quality assurance is built in. I am concerned that, unless a clear timeline is set out soon for progressing local and national developments, with a clear cross-party, long-term action plan, tighter legislation, mandated resourcing and, ideally, milestones in place, there will be a major time gap between the initial pump-priming and the ring-fenced funding, which was introduced three years ago.
Current and emerging projects need to be sustained and grow; they cannot wait for more short-term planning or occasional one-off funds. New systems need three to five-year core budgets to flourish. Many new local services, initially resourced when police and crime commissioner funding began, were not sustained as funds were subsequently diverted when the ring-fencing of funding for restorative justice within the victims service funding was removed.
Restorative justice provision is not joined up, except in a few best-practice areas in England where provision was strong already and where there were restorative justice advocates in police and crime commissioner offices, and in service areas that persevered, so this has been personality-driven. A solution that would lead to more regional best practice would be to mandate the establishment of police and crime commissioner area restorative justice steering groups across sectors, which should definitely include the third sector, to join up knowledge and share and co-fund delivery capacity. That is evidenced in best-practice models such as Cambridgeshire, Avon and Somerset, and the already-mentioned Thames Valley. There needs to be a clear pathway from early intervention restorative approaches and diversionary activities to high-end restorative provision for victims, offenders and communities, with a well advertised and clearly signposted single point of contact for anyone to access on a local and regional basis.
Although the police have an important role to play in engaging with and advocating restorative justice, their core job does not give them the time or the expertise to deliver much more than level 1 or 2 restorative justice, except in specialised roles, so training everyone beyond that level is sometimes a false investment. The focus only on restorative justice conferences is limited for victims, offenders and families, as not everyone can safely meet their offender and many do not want to, although they may want to understand the other side’s perspective better to move forward.
We also need to teach restorative skills at an early stage in schools to all pupils and staff working with children, young people and families so that society can benefit from those principles and skills over time. That would empower individuals and communities to act restoratively themselves without depending on agencies, and it would prevent the escalation of problems and allow them to be resolved quickly.
In Wales, the Welsh Government recognise that, for their education reform, a restorative justice approach is best practice for preventing harm and responding in schools. Involving Families First and recognising the whole restorative team around the family and in social services is best practice. Often the same families are known to all agencies and have the greatest needs. They frequently cause the greatest harm to each other and others and are a drain on resources, so targeted and joined-up work is essential.
The Crime and Courts Act 2013, which was welcome, the antisocial behaviour powers, the Ministry of Justice restorative justice capacity building and the victims’ code all promised great things and were long-awaited, but they were introduced alongside an unprecedented rapid upheaval and huge cuts across the criminal justice system, so no wonder the situation today is patchy. Access to restorative justice is an inconsistent postcode lottery for victims and offenders, and there is no guarantee of quality. That meant that it was highly unlikely for the brand-new provision to be sustained beyond the initial flurry of political statements and activity. Only pre-existing, long-established restorative services and the larger private or third-sector restorative justice providers have been able to gain or maintain training or delivery contracts.
The report highlights that the third sector might be better placed to increase capacity, so the issue of the growth of local provision is a key point. Restorative justice is suffering in the same way that other innovations have suffered from the concurrent break-up of systems. Probation service and community rehabilitation company delivery of restorative justice is dependent on tendering from private providers. Police and crime commissioners have been introduced, and victims’ services have been retendered across several areas with different providers, so the courts and witness services sometimes have different providers from those of the victims’ support services.
Cuts to the Ministry of Justice’s budget were spread across NOMS and all community and police services, and prison staffing was cut at the same time. Prisons are full beyond capacity, so the capacity of prison offender managers to contribute to restorative justice has been pushed to the limit. Restorative justice is less of a priority when mandatory tasks are hard to complete.
Will the Minister provide details of the Government’s timelines? When will they be ready to introduce a legislative right for victims to access restorative justice services? Will he consider threading restorative justice through any new legislation and victims services across the criminal justice system, so that it is an embedded principle as systems change, rather than a separate, optional add-on, which it risks becoming? Does he agree that there needs to be a more radical rehabilitative and restorative justice mindset? The risk is that the UK will have the highest rate of imprisonment, cycles of family breakdown and inter-generational offending.
Restorative justice is about rehabilitation and relationship building, as well as repairing the harm for all. It is about social justice as well as criminal and community justice.
As usual, it is a great pleasure to be in your charge, Mr Evans.
I will start by making some general remarks, and then I will come on to some of the points that have been made in the debate. We have had a good debate, opened by the Chair of the Justice Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), in his customary way. He drew on his experience and made a number of very important points, which I will come to as my speech unveils itself.
We were lucky to hear the wisdom of the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who has a lot of experience in this area, both as a Minister and as a very constructive member of the Opposition during, for example, the passage of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which makes provision for restorative justice. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) made some excellent points about domestic abuse and the position of young people. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) came up with a very good way of illustrating the advantages of restorative justice by pointing to the experience of particular prisoners. I must say I am rather impressed by the fact that she was so busy on Christmas day, as I know what a special day of the year it is for her. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) mentioned the charity Why me?, which I intend to mention in a moment. The Front-Bench Members also made some very constructive comments.
It is critically important that victims get the support they need to help them cope with the trauma that crime can cause, and whenever possible to recover from it. I believe that restorative justice can be part of that. I pay tribute to all those involved in providing restorative justice and enabling it to happen, including the Restorative Justice Council. We need the council, which brings together the various bodies that provide such services and which has innovated to tremendous effect in the area, exactly because in restorative justice we have seen a lot of innovation by particular individuals, groups and bodies. In a way, we are on a journey, from the early days when restorative justice tended to be seen as a way of helping young offenders to realise the nature of their actions through to the existing position in which we see it as valuable for victims, so giving it a wider remit than previously. In the code of practice for victims of crime, for example, there is now a substantial section dealing with restorative justice, from page 34 of the document.
In 2013, as I mentioned, the right hon. Member for Delyn and I served on the Public Bill Committee considering what is now the Crime and Courts Act, which I was taking through as a Minister. With all-party support, we introduced the restorative justice condition in the context of deferred sentences. Restorative justice is the process that brings those harmed by crime into communication with those responsible for it. It allows everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in finding a more positive way forward. A fundamental element is dialogue between offender and victim, although that does not need to be face to face.
Where a person has committed a criminal offence and a criminal justice response is appropriate, it is not right that restorative justice activity should take place on its own; it should be alongside, not instead of a criminal justice response. We know from research in this country and abroad that restorative justice can be a positive experience and empowering for victims, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley—I would not necessarily suggest that they go in for a fight with Mike Tyson. The point that my hon. Friend made was quite right, however, that restorative justice can change the way in which individuals feel about what was a dreadful experience for them.
Restorative justice can also help offenders to reduce their reoffending. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, with his 30 years of experience at the bar—I can probably admit a fair amount myself—my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton and the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless), all made it clear that many people simply do not consider their actions—they have no insight into them. Restorative justice can do something about that, so it is important in that way.
As far as victims are concerned, some present may remember reading about Paul Kohler, the well-known law professor who suffered a most brutal attack during a burglary. Photographs published in the media showed the terrible injuries he sustained, in particular to his face. Paul has spoken powerfully about how he and his family accessed the restorative justice process and how it had been important for them. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who is the victims Minister, recently met Paul through the restorative justice organisation Why me? to learn how his first-hand experience of restorative justice had helped him.
There are therefore reasons to be supportive of restorative justice. As the Justice Committee report makes clear, however, it is important that we develop our understanding of the area and what it can deliver, in particular with its effects on victims. We need to do that through proper research and effort. Our vision is for good-quality, victim-focused restorative justice to be available at all stages of the criminal justice system, which was a point made earlier. It is essential that victims who want restorative justice can access it at the stage that is right for them. Every victim participating should feel safe and in control. I know not every victim will want to participate. Restorative justice should remain voluntary. With domestic violence in particular, which was mentioned by a number of colleagues including my hon. Friend the Member for Henley, we must continue to ensure that no victim feels pressured into taking part. That is key to our approach.
As we highlighted in our response to the Justice Committee report, in recent years a lot of work has been done to make that vision a reality. Police and crime commissioners now receive funding to provide or commission restorative justice services for victims as part of a range of services to support victims of crime. The figure is about £23 million over three years, but it is of concern that the budget has not been spent in full—the money has been spent on victim services, but not all of it on restorative justice services. We need to look into why and at the effectiveness of the spending.
Measures such as the restorative service quality mark and the training provider quality mark, which were developed by the Restorative Justice Council with Government funding, offer assurance to those commissioning services and to victims that services are of a high standard. As is known, the national probation service is working closely with the council to produce guidance on that. We also funded the council to work with a range of criminal justice organisations to develop targeted information packs aimed at helping criminal justice practitioners better understand restorative justice and its benefits.
The Minister is giving a comprehensive response, for which I am grateful. Does he accept that the need to ensure that the money is properly spent and well spent, as he referred to, is precisely the reason why it is important to press ahead firmly with the annual collation and publication of the spend by PCCs, so that we have genuine transparency and build the evidence base that he is seeking to achieve to make progress?
My hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell is looking at that at the moment. The other concern, however, is that although much is about gathering information—I fully accept that—this is an area with an absence of objective research. We need to grab the information about what is effective, why the spending is what it is, and the national picture showing the differences between areas.
Of course the money is not ring-fenced, so police and crime commissioners who receive it are able to spend it on other victim services. However, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the amount for restorative justice was £23 million, so questions need to be answered. He asked us to say something in our update report on the action plan, which I will mention in a moment, and I will certainly bring that point to the attention of those who are preparing the response.
As we build on those foundations, we will take account of the Justice Committee’s work and the recent review of the Victims’ Commissioner, as well as working closely with police and crime commissioners and their association. It is excellent that the Victims’ Commissioner has been able to be in the Public Gallery for our debate. On a personal note, having attended a Crown Prosecution Service conference at which she spoke a couple of years ago, I was very impressed with the personal commitment she made to this area after experiences in her own life. Her role is very important and the way in which she performs it is admirable.
The priority now is to be satisfied by the evidence that the restorative justice services being funded or delivered meet the needs of victims of crime throughout England and Wales. Victims’ needs must be met. There is good practice in delivery, which it is important to share. My Department will work with a number of police and crime commissioners and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners to identify and share good practice and to obtain the data I mentioned that will not only help us but help areas to assess how well they are doing compared with other areas. In the long term, we want to introduce consistent outcome measures across all victim services, including restorative justice, which will allow us to take a more detailed and systematic approach to identifying and sharing good practice and driving up performance. It will also provide a firm evidence base on which we can make decisions about the future landscape of victim services. I should have said that we are also looking carefully at the range of proposals made by the Victims’ Commissioner and others.
I should perhaps say that if I do not finish dealing with all the points that have been made, we will go through them and write to the Committee.
I was asked about the action plan. The original plan for the period until March 2018 was published in November 2014. Ministers decided to publish a progress report covering that period. However, written evidence to the Committee highlighted the progress so far. We explained, for example, that we had the national conference in 2015, regional workshops to share best practice, and successful awareness-raising campaigns in both years during International Restorative Justice Week. Ministers have decided to continue with the action plan and refresh it. The victims Minister has been engaged in that detailed work since November, and we are not far away from publishing it.
Yes, we aim to publish the update—if I can call it that—or refreshment of the plan as soon as possible. As I say, the victims Minister is working hard on that at the moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury mentioned the national protocol for information sharing. The significant changes in the criminal justice landscape in the last few years—the introduction of community rehabilitation companies, the greater involvement of the private and voluntary sectors, and so on—have changed the information-sharing equation, so we have had to do further work on that. A national protocol may not necessarily be the final outcome from that, but it is certainly an important issue to address.
I have mentioned the position on victims’ participation in restorative justice and the need for undue influence not to be imposed. Someone asked about the paper on the use of restorative justice in domestic abuse cases that is mentioned in the ending violence against women and girls strategy for 2016 to 2020. We are working on that with stakeholders, and we certainly intend that paper to go ahead as previously announced.
I was asked about the police’s use of what is often described as first-tier restorative justice, among other such names. It is made clear in the victims code, which I referred to, that community resolutions by the police are not restorative justice, but it is clearly wrong that that sort of approach—saying, “There has been a discussion between the parties and therefore nothing else should happen”—should not be taken, particularly in domestic violence cases. It is contrary to guidance, it is not in the victims code, and we continue to press to ensure that that is not the way things happen on the ground. We are certainly not keen to encourage that street-level or level 1 RJ, and it should not really happen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury asked about pre-sentence restorative justice. Police and crime commissioners are best placed to determine how to meet the needs of victims in their areas. Given that there are innovative bodies in this area that are prepared to try particular approaches to restorative justice, there are advantages in allowing several approaches to be tried, and it is important that we do not make things so restrictive that we lose those advantages. However, we moved to put restorative justice in a legislative context through the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which I have dealt with, and the national probation service is working with the Restorative Justice Council. Those measures, which are designed to ensure that there is a standard approach, but not so standard that there is no innovation, are all moves in the right direction. There is of course a lot of detail about exactly what is going on.
I was asked about the role of probation. I have mentioned the guidance that is being prepared. There has also been a big effort to raise awareness in prisons. The national probation service has positioned itself not so much as a direct provider of restorative justice—although the community rehabilitation companies provide a direct service—but as a referral agent that seeks to ensure that knowledge, experience, capacity and value are maximised and best practice is shared.
I was asked about the differences in the victims code in the availability of restorative justice for offenders of different ages. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said, that is a historical matter. Because restorative justice was first provided for young people, it is in some ways more advanced for young people than it is for adults. We are certainly looking at the points that have been made about extending availability to victims on the basis of not so much the age of the offender but merit.
How do victims find out about restorative justice? Several things are happening here. The victims code requires victims to be informed about restorative justice, and PCCs have a duty to advertise it on their websites. We are also taking awareness-raising measures in prisons, which I think have been alluded to, and doing work to encourage professionals to understand the importance of restorative justice.
I probably have time to mention the ring-fencing of funding, which we used to do. Police and crime commissioners feel that flexibility is helpful, so we are keeping that under review, but it is certainly not acceptable that spending on restorative justice should fall too low. I conclude by saying that the Select Committee produced an extremely valuable report about an extremely important area, and I am glad that our response was acceptable.
I thank the Minister for the care with which he has responded to this considered and constructive debate, and right hon. and hon. Members from across the House for their input. People have been kind enough to help me during my time as Chairman of the Select Committee. As we know, Select Committees work best when they work as teams. Fortunately, the Justice Committee is a good team.
I am particularly pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who is not a member of the Committee, also made a contribution, which I thought was powerful and underlined the significant point about changes in thinking and behaviour. I suppose that Christmas day is not a bad time to think about redemption. The previous Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), of course was not afraid to refer to redemption as well as rehabilitation in our criminal justice system. Ultimately, part of our work on restorative justice is to try to change mindsets so that there can be redemption and rehabilitation as well as closure and comfort for victims.
As the person in the room whom the snow will probably reach last, I will not delay matters any longer, other than to say that I, too, was delighted to see Baroness Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner, here. Our Committee is always grateful for her co-operation and her remarkable personal efforts, to which we all pay tribute. I am grateful to all those who have contributed to this constructive and positive debate. I believe that there is a cross-party view on this issue. Progress is being made. There is more to do, but I hope that we will be able to work constructively with the Government to take this important agenda forward.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Fourth Report of the Justice Committee, Restorative justice, HC 164, and the Government response, Cm 9343.