Victims’ Code of Practice 2020 comes into force
The Victims’ Code of Practice 2020 comes into force today, entitling victims of crime to information about Restorative Justice and how to access it.
This is laid out under right 3, paragraph 3.4:
If the offender is an adult, you have the Right to receive information about Restorative Justice from the police and how to access Restorative Justice services in your local area. If the offender is under the age of 18, you have the Right to receive information about Restorative Justice from the Youth Offending Team.
The inclusion of this entitlement is a testament to the hard work of Why me?, our ambassadors, our supporters and many other organisations who responded to the Victims’ Code consultation; determined to maintain this entitlement to Restorative Justice. The Ministry of Justice’s priority was to shorten and simplify the Victims’ Code, meaning that there was a real risk of the statement about the entitlement to Restorative Justice being removed. In actual fact, the entitlement here is in many ways an improvement on the one in the 2015 Victims’ Code.
This is firstly because the Code as a whole is clearer. It is less than half the size of the 2015 version, and structured around a simpler set of 12 rights. This structure gives greater clarity about the entitlements available, one of which includes a right to be informed about Restorative Justice.
Moreover, the new Code specifies who is responsible for offering Restorative Justice. The police can now be in no doubt that it is their job to ensure information is given about Restorative Justice, unless the perpetrator is under-18, in which case this duty passes to the Youth Offending Team. It also makes clear that other service providers must consider the benefits of Restorative Justice (paragraph 3.5):
Although the police are responsible for providing you with information on Restorative Justice initially, all service providers must consider whether you would benefit from receiving this information at any stage of the criminal justice process.
Finally, the new Victims’ Code contains an information box about Restorative Justice, informed by Why me?’s feedback, which gives clarity about what restorative practice is.
Overall the Victims’ Code is a good document for Restorative Justice which clarifies what people affected by crime are entitled to.
But that’s all it is – a document.
We now need to see guidance about how it will be enforced. If someone’s right under the Code is not met, they are advised to complain through the relevant organisation’s internal complaints procedures, and ultimately through the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman. In reality, we know that people taking the time to lodge complaints in this way will be very rare. The vast majority of people won’t know that they are entitled to information about Restorative Justice, or how beneficial it can be.
Rather than relying on people to complain if rights are not met, this is a great opportunity for Government, Police & Crime Commissioners, Police forces and Youth Offending Teams to step up and deliver real change for victims of crime. What framework will be used to ensure compliance? Who will survey service users to check whether they are getting the information they are entitled to? Who will facilitate the culture change needed to ensure that Restorative Justice is more systematically discussed?
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that just 5.5% of victims of crime with a known offender recall being offered a Restorative Justice meeting. If the Ministry of Justice is serious about these entitlements being met, then this figure needs to massively increase.
For this reason, we continue to call on the Ministry of Justice to produce a new Restorative Justice Action Plan, to replace the one which expired in 2018.
These entitlements aren’t going to be met by magic. We need a plan of action.