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Restorative Justice

Volume 694: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What are the policy implications of the government research on restorative justice published on 19 June.

My Lords, the report examined victim and offender satisfaction with restorative justice. It shows general victim satisfaction and supports the Government's strategy of encouraging the use of adult restorative justice as a service to victims. A further report, on the impact on reoffending and cost-effectiveness, is expected later this year.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I strongly agree that we need to develop policy on the basis of sound evidence and we look forward to the second report. Does he agree that there is already significant evidence of the motivational power of restorative justice for offenders and that there is already compelling evidence that victims are helped by and need it? Would it not therefore be sensible already to develop policy further, which is essential for the whole criminal justice system, at least for victims?

My Lords, I certainly accept that very positive signals are coming from the research. The Government have already encouraged local criminal justice boards to develop restorative justice processes. However, the research project consists of four pieces of work; the final piece of work, as I have already mentioned, concerns cost-effectiveness and outcomes. It is important for the Government to await that before taking further action.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the work of Sherman and Strang, which was also recently published? It bears out the expectation that restorative justice is effective in reducing reoffending, particularly in serious crime, violence and burglary. When that is confirmed, as we hope it will be, later this year, will he pay attention to their suggestion of having a restorative justice board to foster the spreading of this cost-effective and welcome development across the country?

My Lords, I am aware of the research to which the noble Lord refers. I think that it is fair to say that it was a fairly small-scale study; none the less, we are looking at it with very great interest. I assure the noble Lord that, in conjunction with research that my department has commissioned, we will certainly look at his suggestion.

My Lords, I can certainly send a very long definition to the noble Baroness. Essentially, it is an opportunity for victims to explain the impact of the crime to the offender and for the offender to acknowledge the harm caused; it also provides the chance to ask questions. It is not to be seen as a soft option. The research that has just been published shows, for instance, that where direct conferencing has taken place between the offender and the victim, more than half of victims said that the process provided a sense of closure and 90 per cent of victims in conferencing said that offenders had apologised; there is no question about that. Just under four-fifths of offenders thought that it would lessen the likelihood of reoffending. I would not claim that it is a perfect approach but the figures are none the less pretty encouraging.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that only two places in the country use that provision of the 2003 Act to make restorative justice a requirement of a community sentence? They are the Thames Valley and the Liverpool Community Justice Centre. Given the Government’s commitment to developing community sentences as an alternative to custody, which we heartily endorse, and the powerful benefits that restorative justice delivers to victims, to offenders and, therefore, to the country as a whole, what specific plans do the Government have to encourage and to develop a much more widespread take-up of that provision?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right to draw attention to the potential of community sentencing. Certainly, restorative justice can be a part of that process. My understanding is that 13 of the 42 local criminal justice boards report some adult restorative justice delivery. Of course, more can be done. The Government’s approach has been to encourage those boards to invest and to develop those services. We shall come back to this issue in the light of the fourth research study, which, as I have said, we hope will become available towards the end of the year.

My Lords, it seems to me that the emphasis on restorative justice is one of the best features of the Government's legislation in the field of crime. Is it not, therefore, a matter of regret that the restorative justice policy team at the Home Office has now been virtually disbanded?

My Lords, of course, restorative justice is now the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice. It is not so much about what teams we have, but whether we have sufficient support within the ministry to ensure that programmes can be developed. I believe we have that. We are looking at the research with a great deal of interest. As I said, it shows considerable promise; none the less, it will be very important to see the outcome of the study on cost-effectiveness. When that comes out, the Government will make further decisions. In the light of those decisions, we shall ensure that the ministry has the people to assist implementation of any future policy that has been agreed.

My Lords, glancing at the report, we learn on page 18 that 55 per cent of offenders admitted that a very important reason for taking part in the scheme was to aid their forthcoming case. In view of that, what measures does the Minister propose to prevent the exploitation of the restorative justice system?

My Lords, it is very important that restorative justice should not be seen as a soft option. The cases are risk assessed and we shall look at the matter in the light of the research that has been published. The research shows that the face-to-face meetings can be a particular challenge for offenders; nor are they easy for the victims. That is why the risk assessment is done so carefully. I can assure the noble Lord that the last thing I, or my department, would wish is for this to be some kind of soft option, ensuring that an offender is somehow treated more leniently by the courts. It has to be seen as part of a rigorous approach to dealing with justice and helping victims. That is the context in which we shall take it forward.

My Lords, noble Lords might be interested to know, for example, that the Chard and Ilminster community justice scheme for the whole of 2005 dealt with 107 cases. Since that time, only 2.8 per cent recidivism has been recorded and there was very high victim satisfaction. I mention that because there are, in effect, two forms of restorative justice in play: one is conditional cautioning and the other is diversionary restorative justice. The reason for mentioning Chard—

My Lords, if noble Lords will bear with me, I shall come to the question. The reason for mentioning this is that such disposals by the police do not register as sanctioned disposals. Therefore, will the Minister draw that disparity to the notice of officials and try to tidy up that area in the future?