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Public Disorder: Restorative Justice

Volume 731: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are considering the use of restorative justice in dealing with the riots in August.

My Lords, we are committed to delivering more restorative justice. We want to ensure that victims of the riots have a chance to explain the impact on them and that offenders face up to the consequences.

I thank the Minister for that response. Would he agree that restorative justice schemes have resulted in victim satisfaction and cost-benefit analysis, and that reoffending has been reduced by such schemes? Would he say how many such schemes there are and whether they will be rolled out more extensively?

Initially there were three such schemes. There have been about 60 enquiries about restorative justice, and we are very keen to roll out the schemes as quickly as possible. In response to the recent riots, there have been elements of restorative justice in both London and Manchester. I assure the noble Baroness that it is an element of the criminal justice system that we are very eager to learn lessons from and to expand.

I am taking a wild guess here. I think it is probably because we have opened a new Westminster court at the other end of town. I am trying to remember the name of the road, but just along from Baker Street—

Marylebone Road. Thank you. I am about to give the right answer now. I appreciate how convenient it was for Members of both Houses to be in Horseferry Road, but in fact they now have to go to a splendid new court in Marylebone Road.

Is the Minister aware that the Horseferry Road courts, which I presume are the ones he is talking about—in which I sat as a magistrate for several years, although never, I regret to say, when the noble Lord was present—were new buildings and new courts?

I think I would prefer Judge Jeffreys rather than the thought of being up before the noble Baroness. Again, I will write with full details, but I suspect that under the previous Administration—

No. The Marylebone Road building is a very fine building and will be a great credit to the system, but I presume that we will be redeveloping the Horseferry Road site to the benefit of the taxpayer.

My Lords, will the Minister inform the House about the extent to which restorative justice has been used in sentencing young people under the age of 18 as a result of the riots in August?

I will have to write to the noble Baroness with the specific details but I know that it has been used much more in recent times, and with good reason. It is interesting that Resolution, the magazine of the restorative justice system, reported an ICM poll after the riots that said 88 per cent of victims thought that restorative justice should be used and 94 per cent said that offenders should be held responsible for the repair and harm caused to victims. Restorative justice, when it is effectively used both as a punishment and as a rehabilitation measure has been shown to be much more effective in securing non-reoffending than sending to secure accommodation. I will write to the noble Baroness with the facts that bear out that assertion.

In the light of the events in August and of the substantial reductions in the youth service in most London boroughs and other places, do the Government have any plans to assist those voluntary organisations with a proven track record in engaging with hard-to-reach young people, many of whom were involved in the events of August? I am thinking of organisations such as XLP.

Within the budget constraints that affect both central and local government, we are looking to the voluntary sector to continue to play a part in this area. Where and when we can make resources available, we will do so. There is no doubt that where the voluntary sector, including churches, plays a positive role in a community, the impact on such issues as vandalism and small-scale crime is very favourable, so we will certainly be keeping that in mind.

My Lords, in view of the Minister’s answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, does he see any tension or contradiction between his declared support for restorative justice and the attitude taken by the courts to many of those who were caught up in the riots?

Possibly. In the end, it must be the courts, the judges and the magistrates who determine sentencing. It was right that the courts took into account in some of those sentences the fact that the offences occurred in the process of a riot. The riot was a legitimate factor for the courts to take into account in determining sentencing. In the broad sweep of things, I believe, as I indicated to the noble Baroness, that the evidence is that proper restorative justice that has a real impact on the offender is more effective in avoiding repeat offences than sending the offender to a young offender institution. I hope that we can develop a sentencing policy that is based on the facts and what works rather than on knee-jerk reactions.

My Lords, given the successes of restorative justice, how widely are the principles being used and taught in pupil referral units and, more widely, in schools to enable young people to know that they have to take responsibility for their own actions?

Increasingly so. This is one of the things that most attract me and others to the idea of restorative justice bringing the offender face to face with the victim. We are being very careful in consulting victims and victims’ organisations about how restorative justice fits into this. There is no doubt that sometimes a face-to-face meeting between the offender and the victim has a beneficial effect on both. On the other hand, you do not want a system that revisits on the victim a trauma from which they have recovered. In that respect, we are, I hope, being sensitive. People genuinely want to see restorative justice that has an element of real punishment and real work in it to win public confidence in the exercise.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that victim satisfaction, which is one of the cornerstones of restorative justice, is the most important factor in justice at any level?

My Lords, I agree entirely. One of the things that we are consulting on, working on and hoping to bring forward a paper on shortly is the greater involvement of victims in the justice process. Since it was the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, who asked the question, I also find that the buy-in by police to restorative justice is another factor that gives me encouragement that it is the right way forward.

My Lords, I understand that HMIC is looking at the riots to learn lessons for the police about the handling of riots in the future. When will that report be coming out and will it be freely available for people to see?

I would sincerely hope so. There are, as the noble Lord will know, a number of cross-Government studies as well. I would hope, again, that those are published, because I think it is important that we have a proper, healthy debate, based on the facts, to show us the way forward after the summer disturbances.