Restorative Justice – An important tool in the Government’s “Smarter Approach to Sentencing”.
Restorative Justice for Out of Court Disposals – a rapid review, a project roundup by Trevor Watson, Project lead and Morgan Henderson, Communications Officer at Why me?
In January 2021 it was revealed that the backlog of court cases, exacerbated by COVID-19 had reached a critical level. This means victims of crime could have to wait up to two years before they see justice done and can think about gaining closure. With 54,000 unheard cases awaiting trial, what can we do to help alleviate this pressure?
One approach is to shift cases of minor crime and antisocial behaviour, where severe intervention from the justice system is unlikely, out of this backlog and find alternative means to hold them accountable. This approach would involve greater use of Out of Court Disposals, which are made up of multiple conditions that must be complied with.
A benefit of Out of Court Disposals is that a restorative intervention can be included as one of the conditions, while keeping concerns about consent in mind. For example, having an initial conversation with a restorative provider could be a condition of the disposal, with a further restorative process remaining optional as always. Involving Restorative Justice in this way puts victims of crime at the centre of the criminal justice process, enabling them to talk about the incident and be listened to.
Thanks to funding from The Rank Foundation, Why me? have conducted a rapid review into how Restorative Justice can be best used as part of Out of Court Disposals and help clear the court backlog. We spoke to police forces across England and Wales to find out how they were using Restorative Justice as part of Out of Court Disposals and whether any other useful processes had been introduced to deal with the backlog. We captured this information and created a Good Practice guide, signposting ‘quick fixes’ to best implement Restorative Justice as part of an Out of Court Disposal.
Following the publication of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on March 9th 2021, the findings of our project are particularly timely, as the Bill details a new Out of Court Disposal framework. It is clear where Restorative Justice could best be implemented within this framework and we have published our recommendations to the Ministry of Justice in our project report. The report also looks at two other areas mentioned in the Government White Paper on Sentencing that could impact Restorative Justice, Deferred Sentencing and Problem Solving Courts. Ultimately if the Government are serious about widening access to Restorative Justice (which commitments in the new Victims’ Code of Practice suggest they are) then a new national Restorative Justice action plan is needed with a clearly identified Restorative Justice lead within the Ministry of Justice.