What could sentencing reforms mean for Restorative Justice?

Published: Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

What could sentencing reforms mean for Restorative Justice?

A blog by Ben Andrew – Campaigns and Communications Manager at Why me?

The Government’s White Paper on Sentencing has attracted much scrutiny from the criminal justice sector, but what could it mean for  Restorative Justice? The White Paper doesn’t focus on Restorative Justice in detail, but includes a few contexts where it could be greater utilised. These suggestions will only lead to progress if there is clarity about how change can be made, and who is responsible for overseeing it.

These are the two key areas which we raise: (read our full response here)


Deferred Sentencing

The White Paper argues for the increased use of deferred sentencing (which means having a period of time between someone being found guilty of a crime and being sentenced). One potential benefit it raises is using this as an opportunity for pre-sentence Restorative Justice.

We welcome this suggestion, as it could give people affected by crime the chance to have their voices heard while kick-starting the rehabilitation process. But stating that deferred sentencing provides an opportunity for Restorative Justice isn’t enough to make it happen. We need a plan of action which includes:

  • What grounds are needed for a sentence to be deferred.
  • How long sentences can be deferred for, and if it could be flexible around a restorative process.
  • Who is responsible for approaching both parties in advance to see whether pre-sentence Restorative Justice would be desirable.

Only with this clarity, and with someone responsible for monitoring uptake of pre-sentence Restorative Justice, will people affected by crime be able to access it in reality.


Out of Court Disposals

The White Paper proposes that all forces use a consistent two-tier framework for Out of Court Disposals, with an “upper-tier disposal” similar to the current Conditional Caution, and a “lower-tier disposal” similar to the current Community Resolution. 

Restorative Justice is included as an available option “where police consider these more appropriate and proportionate than rehabilitative interventions.”

We welcome Restorative Justice being an available option, but framing it as a substitute for a rehabilitative intervention is… strange. For many people, Restorative Justice is the key which unlocks their rehabilitation, allowing them to truly appreciate the harm they have caused and change their behaviour for good.

A restorative intervention can benefit anyone who has committed or been affected by crime, and should be available for consideration regardless of what other outcomes are on the table. This is the position affirmed in the Victim’s Code of Practice 2015 and the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s Charging and Out of Court Disposals national strategy document. Consistency in how and when Restorative Justice is offered, with a clear implementation plan will allow Government to build on these assurances. 


Read more…

To read our full analysis of the Sentencing White Paper, what it could mean for Restorative Justice, and our recommendations to the Ministry of Justice, download: The Government’s new approach to sentencing, and what it means for Restorative Justice.

The Government White Paper highlights where Restorative Justice could be used more frequently. Guidance on how this will be achieved in reality would lead to more people affected by crime having their voices heard, and more people who have offended having the chance to repair the harm they have caused. Let’s turn warm words into measurable action!

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