Being a victim of crime is not a lifestyle choice
In light of last week’s publication of a Victims Strategy by the Ministry of Justice, Why me? Director Lucy Jaffé shares some reflections on what this means for Restorative Justice and victims’ rights.
Being a victim of crime is not a lifestyle choice. I know no one who chooses to be burgled, stabbed, assaulted or to have a sister, brother or child killed. So when it happens, we would expect, as citizens of one of the G20 nations, to access justice. We need to have our emotional needs respected, and to be provided with the means to cope and recover.
Victims Strategy 2018
So the publication of a national Victims Strategy by the Ministry of Justice in September 2018, is very welcome. The policy document usefully brings all the issues together in one place. This enables service provision to be designed and thought about in a joined up way. People who become victims often report that they are the ones who have to hold all the threads together following the crime. This is an exhausting process, often retraumatising and victimising the very people who need our help.
Many people do not know their rights or entitlements under the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, and even when they do, they are often not able to access them. One in six victims reported being offered a Victim Personal Statement in the British Crime Survey 2018. Only 7.5% of victims recall being offered restorative justice (where there is a known offender). And strikingly, only 18% of victims were aware of their entitlements under the Code.
Restorative Justice in the Victims Strategy
Restorative Justice is a really good example of how people have not been receiving their entitlements in the Victims’ Code. If we cast our minds back over the last few years, there has been a struggle to convey the power and potential of Restorative Justice and how it works. People in power have had to be persuaded alongside professionals who are delivering victim and offender services. We can see in this strategy that the message that Restorative Justice works for victims has been fully and firmly received. It is mentioned several times in the strategy as an option which should be made available for victims. The power and potential it offers victims to get their questions answered and to cope and recover have been proven through 85% victim satisfaction from a Home Office study (Shapland 2002-2007). As Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke put it, “victims want the opportunity and the support to make their voices heard” and Restorative Justice does just that. Why me? can claim success through persistent and persuasive lobbying over the years, many meetings with successive ministers and other policy makers, and a clear and consistent message backed up by evidence and personal stories.
We’ve been pointing out the lack of informed choice about Restorative Justice for a long time at Why me? and so it is gratifying that this shameful gap in provision was acknowledged by PM Theresa May: ”victims who reported a crime and followed all the instructions they were given but were not told about their entitlements.” Given that there were manifesto commitments at the 2015 and 2017 election by the Conservative Party to enshrine victims’ rights in law, the Government’s statement that they will to enshrine victims’ entitlements in law has been a long time coming.
What does the future hold?
Whilst a welcome announcement that the Government is going to deliver on its promises, when will we actually have sight of an amended Victims Code and a Victim Law? According to officials, consultation will be started in early 2019 with a potential end date of December 2019. Is this just a way to kick victims rights into the long grass? Victims and victim organisations have been consulted again and again about what they want and what works. As Baroness Newlove said at her the Advisory Group meeting, which I attended in September 2018: “No more consultation.”. We need a timeframe for delivery of these much-needed improvements to the Code and for legislative change. Otherwise it is just another bunch of fine words. When will 100% of victims be offered Restorative Justice?
The commitment to increase the Victims Commissioner’s powers is very welcome. This postholder should be the standard bearer for victims’ rights, keeping a watchful eye over regional and national services. There should be a statutory duty of authorities, such as Police and Crime Commissioners, to respond to the Commissioner’s request for data and for them to respond to recommendations made by the Commissioner (only 28 out of 42 PCCs responded to her office’s most recent request); and it would also be a suitable office to task with monitoring code compliance. The biggest question which remains unanswered is how a victim of crime can challenge a breach of the Code or indeed the Law. A Government which can deliver on this will have truly advanced victims’ rights.
Extracts from the Victims Strategy relevant to Restorative Justice:
Page 23: Many PCCs have created single points of contact for victims, co-locating services to improve coordination and reduce the need for the victim to re-tell their story.
-Victims First Northumbria (VFN) provides a one stop shop for victims where they receive updates on their case, co-ordination of victim care, options for restorative justice and support going to court and throughout the process.
-As well as providing referral pathways to local specialist services, Independent Sexual Violence Advisors, the joint Police/ CPS Witness Care Unit and the restorative justice specialists are co-located. Call-handlers and front-line police officers refer victims to VFN who work with the victim to create a Personal Recovery Plan.
-The Victim and Witness Hub co-locates mental health nurses, Independent Domestic Violence Advisors, domestic abuse outreach workers, staff from the court-based witness service, a specialist support worker for young people, restorative justice co-ordinators and a team of community volunteers.
Page 28: What happens at this stage?
-Under the Code, victims are also entitled to receive information about restorative justice; a process that brings victims and offenders into communication. It can provide a means of closure and enable the victim to move on. It also allows victims to be heard and have a say in the resolution of offences, including agreeing rehabilitative or reparative activity for the offender.
-West Mercia and Warwickshire victims’ services restorative justice staff met with the local Muslim Welfare Association to discuss restorative justice as a means to deal with local hate crime incidents and attended the mosque to offer introductory Restorative Justice training to them.
-The service has recruited and trained a young-adult Muslim volunteer to help facilitate restorative justice. This has begun to achieve positive results for victims. In addition, police Equality and Diversity Advisors in both policing areas have been trained to deliver restorative justice and use restorative approaches when working with different communities.
Page 29: Victims are not always being offered their entitlements from the Victims’ Code.
-The Victim Personal Statement (VPS) is one of the Code’s key entitlements, providing the opportunity for victims to express how a crime affected them. Yet the Crime Survey for England and Wales found that for the past few years only around 15% of victims said they were given the opportunity by the police to make one.30 Also, there is evidence that only 4% of victims were aware that restorative justice had been offered (where an offender had been identified).
Page 30: Increase opportunities for victims to engage in alternative solutions to court.
-Out of court disposals allow the police to deal quickly and proportionately with low-level offending without victims having to go to court. The National Police Chief’s Council have agreed that all police forces, when feasible, will move to a new framework for conditional out of court disposals. That way, police can discuss with, and take into account, the victim’s views on the conditions that are set (e.g. compensation, a formal apology and/or a restorative justice process). Explaining the options and what they mean in a clear and sensitive way is crucial to making this approach work.
Page 31: Require PCCs to make sure that restorative justice services are available in their areas
-Victims know how they might access them and the services they commission are safe. This will enable more victims to make an informed choice, at a time that is right for them and to be assured that the process will be led by skilled practitioners who can make the appropriate risk assessments to safeguard all participants in the process and so prevent revictimization. In Wales, we are developing a stronger restorative justice approach to youth justice and female offending. It will involve extensive engagement with victims of crime to ensure that it is delivered in an appropriate and effective manner.
Page 32: Developing measures so victims are offered their entitlements under the Victims’ Code.
Require PCCs to make sure that restorative justice services are available in their areas.
Developing a stronger restorative justice approach to youth justice and female offending in Wales.
Page 33: Natasha’s story.
–The offender wanted to make amends, and so a restorative justice process was recommended. Natasha was still very upset by the offence and did not want to meet the offender, but agreed to receive a restorative letter from him. The offender then worked closely with a support worker and was encouraged to try to retrieve the stolen property. He eventually located some of the victim’s belongings, including the rosary beads, and wrote the victim a letter in which he explained how and why he had stolen the items.
-Natasha accepted the letter and asked the officer to tell the offender she forgives him and thanks him for getting her property back. The offender has not re-offended in the year since he first engaged with restorative justice, which is the longest period (aside from time spent in custody) that he has not offended in his adult life.
Page 49: End notes.
– Not all victims will be able to access to restorative justice, as it is dependent on the perpetrator being identified, apprehended and then agreeing to take part. Whilst this could go some way to explain this statistic, we know and victims tell us that more can be done to improve the offer of restorative justice. ONS 2018 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), data table 6b, victims’ services and restorative justice, year ending March 2013 to year ending March 2017
Page 50: End notes.