The empty entitlement of Restorative Justice in the Victims’ Code
Victims of crime feel let down by the criminal justice system. They are often silenced, left in the dark, and in the worst cases revictimized by the process. Restorative Justice puts victims’ needs first by allowing them to communicate with the offender, letting them know how the crime affected them and seeking answers to unresolved questions. Restorative Justice empowers victims and can help them to move on from the impact of the crime.
With this in mind, we are glad that the Victims’ Code entitles victims to receive information about Restorative Justice, giving them an informed choice about whether or not they wish to participate.
But this promise is not being met. Data released today from the Office of National Statistics shows that only 4.8% of victims recalled being offered the opportunity of Restorative Justice in 2018/19. That is 1 in 20 victims of crime. This is just not good enough, and is a significant decrease from 7.5% last year.
The Ministry of Justice are seeking views on how the Victims’ Code should be changed.
We welcome this consultation, but getting an entitlement into the Victims’ Code doesn’t seem to be sufficient, when only 1 in 20 victims are getting that entitlement in reality.
So how can we fix this? First we need to understand why it is happening. Why me? have been working with police forces across the country to increase access to Restorative Justice.
We have witnessed many problems, including the following:
- Many police and victim & witness staff don’t understand Restorative Justice. They think it is a disposal method, or only suitable as a replacement for punishment.
- Many police and victim & witness staff “gatekeep” victims – meaning that they decide whether the case is suitable for Restorative Justice or not, rather than asking the victim for their preference. This means that victims of serious crimes rarely get the chance to have their say on Restorative Justice.
- When Restorative Justice is mentioned it is often a short yes or no question at the end of a long questionnaire, which does not give victims an informed choice. Many of these victims won’t recall the subject being raised with them at all.
- Funding for Restorative Justice varies hugely in different parts of the country. Some areas are spending less than 1% of their victims fund on Restorative Justice.
To change this we need real leadership on Restorative Justice from Government. We need a commitment in practice, as well as in principle, to victims being made aware of the process and we need a culture change which comes from the top.
Why me? are fighting for all victims of crime to get the access to Restorative Justice they deserve. Our largest current project is seeking to increase access for victims of hate crime, who are particularly unlikely to be offered a restorative intervention, despite the strong case for using Restorative Justice for hate crime.
We know that Restorative Justice works. We know that the Victims’ Code entitles victims to be made aware of it. Now we need to turn that into a reality.