The Victims’ Code Consultation and Restorative Justice
The Victims’ Code
The Victims’ Code is the statutory code which lays out the minimum level of service which victims should expect from the criminal justice system.
The current Victims’ Code has been in force since 2015, and the Government are consulting on a new version which aims to be a “clearly defined set of rights, that are easy for victims to understand and which set out the minimum level of service that they can expect from criminal justice agencies.”
The Ministry of Justice have released a draft of the new Code and the consultation is open until May 28th 2020.
Restorative Justice in the draft Code
The Code outlines 12 key entitlements that victims of crime should have in the criminal justice system. It mentions Restorative Justice in the following ways:
- Right 3 for victims is “to be provided with information when reporting the crime”. Under the summary of this right, the Code says: “This might include services where you can meet with the suspect or offender known as Restorative Justice.”
- Paragraph 3.4 under Right 3 says that “the police will explain to you, where applicable, how to seek compensation and how to access Restorative Justice services.
- Right 11 for victims is “to be given information about the offender following a conviction”. Paragraph 11.5 under this right says “the Youth Offending Team may seek your views prior to sentencing and explore whether you want to get involved in any Restorative Justice initiatives, where appropriate and available.”
- There is a breakout box under paragraph 3.4 about Restorative Justice. It says:
“What is Restorative Justice?
Restorative Justice can give you the chance to explain to the offender the impact that their crime has had on you. It will only happen if you and the offender, having acknowledged the basic facts of the case, both want to take part and a trained facilitator decides that it’s safe and appropriate.
You will be provided with full and impartial information on Restorative Justice and how to take part.
Restorative Justice is voluntary, you do not have to take part and you can withdraw at any time.
You can ask to participate in Restorative Justice at a time that is right for you and you may be asked to take part because the offender has requested Restorative Justice. Even if both you and the offender want to take part, it might not be appropriate, and the trained facilitator will make an assessment of this.
Why me?’s response
Why me?’s submission made these key points:
- The right to be referred to Restorative Justice services should be a right of its own. This is because of the significant evidence showing the benefits of Restorative Justice for victims of crime. Why me?’s Valuing Victims Report in March 2020 found that victims who went through Restorative Justice in 2018/19 reported improved health and wellbeing, being better able to cope with aspects of life, having increased feelings of safety, and feeling better informed and empowered. Trained facilitators at Police and Crime Commissioner funded restorative providers are best placed to discuss what restorative options may be available with a victim of crime, and assess any safety concerns.
- There should be greater clarity about what victims are entitled to regarding Restorative Justice. The draft code includes a lot of conditional language regarding Restorative Justice, saying that information “might include… Restorative Justice,” that “the Youth Offending Team may seek your views” about Restorative Justice, and that police will speak to you about Restorative Justice “where applicable”. This conditional language undermines the stated purpose of the code to be a “clearly defined state of rights”. The Code should be more specific about under which circumstances victims of crime are entitled to be referred to a Restorative Justice provider. In our view, this should be under all circumstances.
- The Code should make police, victim services and witness services jointly responsible for ensuring that victims access their Restorative Justice entitlements. The draft Code mentions victims being given information about Restorative Justice “when reporting the crime”, by the police, and by Youth Offending Teams in the case of young offenders. But our victim ambassadors emphasised the importance of Restorative Justice being raised at different stages of the process, because while some victims are interested in Restorative Justice immediately after the crime, others may not want to consider it until much later. The Code should specify that police, victims services and witness services are all responsible for ensuring these entitlements are met, so that Restorative Justice is something which is made available throughout the victim’s journey.
- An independent victims’ ombudsman should be appointed to deal with complaints. Entitlements are only as strong as the ability to enforce them. Right 12 explains how to make a complaint, with the strongest action being a complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Ombudsman. We suggest that this is strengthened by the inclusion of an independent victims’ ombudsman responsible for dealing with complaints.
- Editing the Restorative Justice breakout box. We are delighted that the draft code includes a breakout box on Restorative Justice. We have rewritten this text in our submission to ensure that it:
i) Gives a clear explanation of what Restorative Justice is
ii) Explains the flexibility of the process
iii) Explains the potential benefits of Restorative Justice
Here is our suggested rewritten text:
“Restorative Justice gives victims the chance to communicate with the offender about the real impact of the crime. It empowers victims by giving them a voice, and for many people it can help them to move forward and recover. For offenders, the experience can be incredibly challenging as it confronts them with the personal impact of their crime.
Restorative Justice conferences, where a victim meets their offender, are led by a trained facilitator who supports and prepares the people taking part and makes sure that the process is safe. Sometimes, when participants do not want a face to face meeting or it is not safe to do so, the facilitator can arrange for the two parties to communicate via letters, shuttling information between the victim and offender, recorded interviews or video.
Restorative Justice is voluntary, meaning that both parties must be willing to participate for it to go ahead.”
You have until May 28th 2020 to respond to the consultation and can do so here: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/victim-policy/consultation-on-improving-the-victims-code/