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Restorative Justice

Volume 690: debated on Monday 19 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What action they are taking to implement their strategy to develop restorative justice.

My Lords, the Government's strategy is to encourage the use of adult restorative justice, to ensure quality of delivery and to continue to develop the evidence base to show what works for adults. We have invested £5 million in pilots and their evaluation, produced best practice guidance for practitioners and introduced legislation to provide further opportunities for the delivery of restorative justice. Restorative justice is embedded in the youth justice system.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer. Does she agree that, notwithstanding the steps that the Government have taken and that she outlined, more has to be done if we are really to make restorative justice achieve the contribution that is needed to make prison a last resort and deter reoffending?

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble and learned Lord that we need to do everything we can to reduce reoffending. Restorative justice seems to have a very beneficial effect from the victim’s point of view. We are working hard to see whether it can also contribute to reducing the level of reoffending.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, given the tragic deaths of five young people over the past six days, it might be an interesting idea and helpful to invite the relatives to participate in this? After all, they know rather more about it than any of us.

My Lords, it is important to know when to introduce the idea of restorative justice. Many victims indicate that they would find that helpful. However, we must wait to see whether it would be helpful in all circumstances. I regret to say to the noble Lord that it is not always the first port of call after a tragic death that looks like a murder.

My Lords, has the Home Office conducted any research into restorative justice? Is there any information about whether it is beneficial to victims of crime?

My Lords, there has been some research, and consistent evidence shows that restorative justice increases victim satisfaction: at least 75 per cent of victims who choose to take part in the restorative justice process are very glad that they did so. The outstanding issue is whether it reduces the offender’s likelihood of reoffending. From the victim’s point of view, there is clear evidence that it is very beneficial.

My Lords, what steps is the Minister taking to encourage schemes being undertaken by voluntary organisations such as the Sycamore Trust in Wandsworth?

My Lords, the noble Viscount will know that we are very interested in encouraging voluntary sector involvement in these schemes and in entering into offender management generally. That is why the Offender Management Bill has been brought forward; it will enable voluntary sector organisations to play a better—and, we would say, a proper—part.

My Lords, the Home Office document, Restorative Justice: Helping to Meet Local Needs, included the suggestion that local criminal justice boards appoint champions or lead persons to take forward restorative justice work in local communities. How many local justice boards have responded and appointed such people in their areas?

My Lords, I do not have the figures with me but I shall be very happy to write to the noble Lord. We try to ask local criminal justice boards to incorporate this approach generally in their work, encouraging participation not just by the champions but by everyone—for example, the corporate alliance, the faith-based alliance and the civic alliance—involving the voluntary sector and the local authorities in these issues too.

My Lords, what action has been taken by the National Criminal Justice Board since it published its plans for this matter on its website in 2005?

My Lords, we have invested more than £5 million in evaluating the pilot schemes, and we are waiting for that evaluation. We hope for an outcome to the research by the end of the year but we do not have a fixed timescale. It is very important for us to understand the value in changing the outcomes. We have some very good figures for juvenile justice, where the statistics show that the reconviction rate under referral orders, for example, is the lowest at 44.7 per cent. The Safer School Partnerships are also doing very powerful work. However, it is not clear whether this is transferable to the adult estate.

My Lords, surely it is an encouraging indication of what is likely to happen in the adult estate. Can the noble Baroness assure us that research is being done urgently to establish whether adults respond in the same way, as I think most of us assume they would? That has a very close bearing on the next Question that she has to answer.

My Lords, we are undertaking that research, but it is important that we do not prejudge the outcome. I know that many of us would like it to be so, but whether it will prove to be so is yet to be seen.

My Lords, is it the Government’s intention to contemplate in England and Wales, as they appear to do in Northern Ireland, restorative justice schemes administered by double murderers?

My Lords, absolutely not. We have found that restorative justice conferences have been healing for those who have participated. I have had the benefit of witnessing some of these conferences, and they have been one of the most enthralling and uplifting things that I have been privileged to see.

My Lords, this is a development of such significance that I wonder whether the Minister would be prepared to give a Statement and initiate a debate in this House when the research is through, as I hope it will be within a year.

My Lords, of course that would be for the usual channels, but I should be very happy for restorative justice to be a subject for debate. I emphasise that, whatever its outcome may be in relation to reducing reoffending, it is incontrovertible that it has a hugely beneficial effect on victims—a healing effect which is much to be valued.

My Lords, given the Minister’s clear enthusiasm for restorative justice, does she think that enough people are trained in this method? If not, what can the Government do to ensure that more people are capable of administering this technique?

My Lords, training is ongoing, and I particularly invite the House’s attention to the work undertaken by the Safer School Partnerships. Many of the officers involved are using restorative methods in schools to deal with difficulties between young people.