Community Resolutions and the use of Restorative Justice
On 3rd January 2018, ITV published a news article ‘Thousands avoid prosecution after saying ‘sorry’’. As well as misrepresenting Restorative Justice, this article and Good Morning Britain’s new piece on the topic struggled to differentiate between Restorative Justice and Community Resolutions. This post aims to provide some clarity and discuss what is important from the victim’s point of view.
Restorative Justice is “the process that brings those harmed by crime, and those responsible for the harm, into communication, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward”.
Victims get a chance to get their questions answered, to feel empowered through having a voice in the criminal justice process and the closure to be able to move on. Offenders get an opportunity to confront the real impact of their crime, to take responsibility and to make amends. Government research has shown that Restorative Justice can provide 85% victim satisfaction and a 14% reduction in re-offending. It can take the form of a face-to-face conference or indirect communications, such as letters.
A Community Resolution is “an informal non-statutory disposal used for dealing with less serious crime and anti-social behaviour where the offender accepts responsibility. The views of the victim (where there is one) are taken into account in reaching an informal agreement between the parties which can involve restorative justice techniques.”
Police use them as a tool to deal with lower level crime, where remorse has been expressed and the victim does not want the police to take more formal action. The use of Community Resolutions has been on the rise, until recent years when it has seen a slight decline. One benefit to victims can be that they receive a quick resolution and closure from the crime. They also do not have to endure the bureaucratic process of going to court. However, Community Resolutions can be misused. They can be used inappropriately to save police time or carried out without the victim’s needs in mind.
A Community Resolution can happen with or without Restorative Justice.
‘A University student with no previous convictions was on a night out, when in an act of stupidity he punched the wing mirror of a parked Mercedes, causing damage to the value of £150. The victim detained him at the scene and called the police. The victim did not want him to be arrested and end up with a criminal record, so the matter was resolved with an apology and the £150 being paid for the damage’.
In this case, the victim got reimbursement for the damage, all parties avoided going to court and the offender avoided being criminalised for a fairly minor offence. Crucially, the victim’s needs were listened to. A Community Resolution can often be the best outcome for all parties. But in order for it to be effective, it must be done well, taking into account victims’ needs.
Community Resolutions and Restorative Justice
Community resolutions have a huge potential to provide access to Restorative Justice for victims. But if done inconsiderately, they can cause further harm. For example, asking an offender to send an apology letter to a victim without the victim’s consent can be re-traumatising. It can increase their sense of loss of control. The Restorative Justice process is one which genuinely takes into account victims’ views and needs. It involves safeguards for victims’ safety and wellbeing and includes risk assessments to ensure that no further harm is caused. Ordering offenders to ‘say sorry’, as highlighted in ITV’s coverage, is not Restorative Justice. Telling an offender to throw 50p in a charity donation box and calling that reparations is not Restorative Justice.
Restorative Justice and community resolutions do not have an either/or relationship. Restorative Justice can be used alongside any disposal. This could be a community resolution or a formal sentence, custodial or non-custodial.
Why me? believes that victims should have access to Restorative Justice when they want it and when it is safe. This can be done through community resolution but victims’ needs must be considered paramount in the process.