A chance for change
This is a blog by Director Lucy Jaffé.
We need big change to reap the rewards of Restorative Justice (RJ), and right now in the UK there is a real opportunity for the Government to commit to making it available for everyone affected by crime and conflict.
That opportunity presents itself as the Victims’ Bill. The Bill is being prepared to go through Parliament this year, and the Government has long promised it will strengthen the rights of those of us who are harmed by crime. This legislation offers the Government a chance to be the champions and world leaders in RJ by:
- Legislating for Restorative Justice to be available to every victim of crime at the point of need.
- Providing statutory footing for the 12 entitlements in the Victim Code of Practice.
- Creating clear leadership from the top with a National RJ action plan to be laid before Parliament every year, a dedicated Minister of Restorative Justice and team of civil servants.
- Substantial investment into making Restorative Justice available to everyone.
Restorative Justice approaches people as people and trained facilitators view the world through an objective lens. When working in a restorative way, solutions to crime and conflict are arrived at by identifying each person’s needs and discussing how they can best be met, rather than pigeonholing and condemning individuals to a life with a label.
Restorative Justice can be viewed as simply a technique for controlling crime, but as Gerry Johnstone writes in Restorative Justice, justice need not be conceived of as a zero sum game in which the interests of victims and offenders are inversely related. In contrast with the current justice system, both the person who committed the crime and the person affected by the crime can gain from the restorative process.
This restorative approach challenges outdated funding models – one pot for victims and one much larger pot to ‘deal’ with people who commit crime. Current investment in victim services is miserably low. Of the £9.15bn budget for the Ministry of Justice, £103m was distributed to Police and Crime Commissioners via the Victims’ Fund, of which only a small percentage is spent on Restorative Justice; and the use of Restorative Justice by probation and prison service is optional and limited.
We were so delighted that Minister Lord Wolfson declared the Government’s commitment to Restorative Justice in the Policing Bill debate. However, there are consistently low rates of victims being being given the opportunity to meet the offender – just 5.5% according to the British Crime Survey (2020).
With this vision of legislative change that could be driven from the very top of Government, we can all look forward to living in a more humane, constructive and safer society.