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Restorative Justice

Volume 767: debated on Wednesday 18 November 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effectiveness of restorative justice services in England and Wales.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw attention to my interests as a former chair and a current trustee of the Thames Valley Partnership, which manages restorative justice in the Thames Valley Police area.

My Lords, there has been no formal assessment to date. However, the Ministry of Justice is aware of the progress that police and crime commissioners are making in developing and delivering restorative justice services and is offering advice and guidance where necessary. The recently announced Justice Select Committee inquiry into restorative justice will help to provide a comprehensive picture of restorative justice across England and Wales.

I thank the Minister for that Answer, particularly in national Restorative Justice Week. I congratulate the Government on their interest in restorative justice and on the amount of money they have transmitted to police and crime commissioners for restorative justice services. As far as I know, restorative justice is the only criminal justice intervention which has been proved to be effective through random control trials, in the same way as medical research, in assisting victims to recover and reducing reoffending. However, there are persistent and widespread accounts of RJ services facing difficulties and delays in obtaining victim contact details from police and the courts. Without this, RJ simply cannot work. What are Her Majesty’s Government going to do to clear this blockage?

My Lords, to clear the blockage, apart from other steps, the new victims’ code, which was published two days ago, now requires the police to pass on victims’ details to RJ service providers unless asked not to do so—in other words, an opt-out. This is in line with the mechanism for referral for other victims’ services. We are working with the Association of Policing & Crime Chief Executives to ensure that its toolkit on information sharing is up to date and are making connections between areas where there is good restorative justice take-up and other areas where there is not such a good take-up.

My Lords, have the Government taken carefully into account the experience of Northern Ireland, where there have been some remarkable schemes over the last decade or more?

The Government are aware that there are a number of schemes, in not only Northern Ireland, but Australia, New Zealand and parts of North America. There is no standardised way of delivering restorative justice but the Government are committed to continuing this as a significant way of improving reoffending rates and providing victims with a reasonable involvement with the criminal justice system.

My Lords, the MoJ is to be congratulated on its action plan produced by the coalition Government and on promoting Restorative Justice Week. There is strong evidence that restorative justice programmes can be effective in prisons as well as in the community, and Sycamore Tree has been running programmes in 40 prisons. Will the new prisons built to replace existing outdated ones have the facilities necessary to run restorative justice programmes, and in surroundings that are sympathetic to victims, who are central to restorative justice?

The noble Lord is right that restorative justice is provided in a number of settings, including in prisons. Of course, the new prison plans are somewhat in their infancy at the moment but I am sure that the Secretary of State will have well in mind the desirability of maintaining this tradition.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, whatever the statistics regarding effectiveness, for those who participate in it restorative justice is a profoundly affecting experience? I have witnessed the restorative justice programme in HM Prison Hewell in my diocese, and for all concerned—particularly for members of the community—it is a deeply affecting experience which is profoundly for the common good.

I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for that contribution. The statistics show 85% overall victim satisfaction and a 14% reduction in reoffending. These things have to be approached very carefully because of course not all victims want to be involved in it and they must be allowed to pull out at the last moment if they so wish. However, the take-up is remarkable.

My Lords, I once attended a restorative justice conference at a prison which was spoiled because, at the end of it, the prison governor admitted that he was unable to deliver any of the programme that had been outlined by the admirable police chairman of the commission. Can the Minister assure the House that prisons have been instructed that it is essential that they provide all the necessary support for restorative justice programmes to make certain that they are effective?

I will of course pass on that concern to the Prisons Minister. I assure the noble Lord that the standards for restorative justice are set out in the victims’ code, and the necessary trained facilitation and all the necessary support should be present.

My Lords, it is some eight years, I think, since the publication of the last report validating the success of the restorative justice programme. Since that time, I believe that the Howard League for Penal Reform has made an annual award to schemes covering respectively adults and young offenders. Is it possible for the Government now to look at ways of supporting that kind of approach in order to promote the scheme and perhaps invest in it, given that the likelihood is that the development of restorative justice will cause savings to be made in the custodial system and indeed in the judicial system?

The Government are well aware of the advantages of restorative justice and in fact they have contributed to it very considerably, with £30 million having been made available to RJ services for victims over the last three years. Of course, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to the Howard League’s contribution. There have been contributions from all sorts of providers in different fields.

My Lords, as I recall, the initial pioneering effort was made by the Thames Valley Police Authority, which deserved great credit for that. Do any police authorities not provide restorative justice services at present?

My noble friend is right to single out the Thames Valley Probation Service, and the noble Lord, Lord Blair, is intimately concerned with that. All police and crime commissioners have been provided with funds, although the take-up has varied between authorities. As I indicated in answer to an earlier question, it is important that best practice is shared among the various areas.