With victims of crime on the Government’s agenda, it’s time to unleash the power of Restorative Justice
This is a blog by Why me?’s Campaigns and Communications Manager Ben Andrew.
The Government has today unveiled its Beating Crime Policy, which aims to create fewer victims, peaceful neighbourhoods and a safe country. The Prime Minister pre-empted the launch of the policy with a pledge for every victim of crime to have a named police officer who they can contact about their case. “We want everyone to know that if you are the victim of crime, you have a named officer to call – someone who is immediately on your side,” said the Prime Minister.
This has been met with scepticism from some. “It doesn’t work in that way,” says Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation. “You can’t start singularly naming officers because, by the sheer nature of their work, if they’re not at work, what happens then?”
The Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird had a more balanced view. “The Victims’ Code requires a continuing relationship with someone in the police if it is to be delivered effectively. So having a named officer to guarantee that could be helpful. But victims often now get the phone number of an officer in their case and it leads to dissatisfaction since they are busy, don’t keep appointments, aren’t always on shift and there is rarely anyone else who can keep a victim up to date. Any new system of personal officers would have to ensure priority for communicating with victims.”
Why me? also want clarification about how long the named police officer would remain someone’s main point of contact. When would their role end and how would victims of crime be supported after it does?
There are many valid concerns and practical questions about these emerging plans, some of which are likely to be clarified with further discussion. However, giving victims of crime a single point of contact where they can go with any questions seems to be a positive development, as long as victims’ expectations are managed appropriately.
As a charity which works side by side with victims of crime, we are pleased that the Government is focussing on victims’ experiences. Victims of crime are often left confused, silenced and retraumatised by the justice system. Any reforms which acknowledge and seek to address this can only be positive for those affected by crime.
However, these reforms would truly transform the experience of victims if they embraced the power and potential of Restorative Justice. Restorative services up and down the country are supporting victims of crime by allowing them to have their voices heard, get questions answered and make a plan to move forward. What could be a more healing process than having the opportunity to communicate directly with the person who harmed you, while being supported and listened to by a trained facilitator? If each victim of crime had a named police officer who they could contact about their case, then that officer should be responsible for informing them about Restorative Justice, and how they could benefit from speaking to their local restorative provider. This is the true way to support victims of crime: placing them back at the centre of the incident which harmed them.
The wind of change is behind Restorative Justice. Every victim of crime is entitled by the Victims Code of Practice to information about how to access their local restorative service. An All-Party Parliamentary Group on Restorative Justice has been established by a Conservative MP. Our campaign for Police & Crime Commissioners to pledge support for all victims to have access to Restorative Justice was signed by dozens of candidates. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill presents opportunities for Restorative Justice to be used in situations where it is currently overlooked. The tide is turning in favour of Restorative Justice, with increasing cross-party recognition that this common sense, victim centred approach can transform lives, and reduce offending in the process.
With victims rights firmly on the agenda, this is an enormous opportunity for the Government to embrace the potential of Restorative Justice, and allow victims of crime to regain their power and voice.