Once in a generation opportunity for victims’ rights: The Victims’ Bill Consultation and Restorative Justice
This is a blog written by our Director Lucy Jaffé.
The Victims’ Bill
The Victims’ Bill is a once in a generation opportunity to enshrine victims’ rights in law. This has never been done before in a single piece of legislation. The Government is consulting the public about what should be in a new Victims’ Law with a view to putting a Bill before Parliament later this year.
Why me? supports the Government’s proposal to make the 12 rights in the recently redrafted Victims’ Code of Practice (2021) into law, especially the right to receive information about Restorative Justice and services. We would like to see the right to be referred to a service strengthened. There is also urgency to make sure there is a national plan delivered against a backdrop of consistent oversight and inspection of services. To date, under 10% of victims with a known offender are aware that they have been informed about Restorative Justice. This is simply not right.
Why me? urge you to submit your own response by filling in the Victim Bill Government consultation here or submitting your response by email. Don’t hesitate! You can show you care by making a response before the deadline on 3rd February 2022. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
Restorative Justice in the consultation process
The consultation does not mention Restorative Justice, but it does offer an opportunity for you to respond highlighting the importance of Restorative Justice.
Restorative Justice supports the delivery of 3 of the four key principles which are:
- ensuring victims are informed
- ensuring victims are supported
- ensuring victims have their voices heard
- victims’ right to review.
Why me? are of the view that the key principles set out in the consultation are the right ones but would like to see them clearly laid out in the Law.
1. Right to be referred to Restorative Justice service with no caveat
The Victims’ Code of Practice is the statutory code which lays out the minimum level of service that victims should expect from the Criminal Justice System. The most relevant part of the Code is under Right 3 as follows:
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.
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.
3.6 All information under this Right must be provided within 5 working days (1 working day under Enhanced Rights) of reporting the crime.
Why me? believe there is an opportunity to enact and strengthen these entitlements.
a) There should be a statutory entitlement that all victims be informed of the possibility of restorative justice (see Victim Commissioner’s proposal for Victim Law section 1.13) and extended to
b) a right to be automatically referred to a Restorative Justice service. This should be a right of its own (rather than a subsection of the right to information).
This is because of the significant evidence showing the benefits of Restorative Justice for victims of crime. Why me?’s Valuing Victims Report in March 2021 found that victims who went through Restorative Justice in 2018/19 reported improved health and wellbeing, being better able to cope with aspects of life, having increased feelings of safety, and feeling better informed and empowered.
A right to automatic referral to an RJ professional is a recommendation made by the recent All-Party Parliamentary Group on Restorative Justice Inquiry report (APPG for RJ) and we believe it is important to include in the Law. An automatic referral would be the responsibility of professionals – Police officers, the regional RJ Service, Youth offending team, probation or prison officer. It means victims get the chance to really understand how RJ works and to discuss their options with a trained restorative facilitator.
2. Information and services should be made available to victims when they need them
The consultation seems to assume that the legislative aspects of victim care stop once the criminal justice process has concluded. As we all know, many victims require support way beyond that stage, and the law should reflect that. Victims should have access to support for life.
Victims’ needs change over time and are different according to circumstances and protected characteristics. The need for services does not necessarily coincide with the Criminal Justice System’s main function – to prosecute offenders on behalf of the state. Therefore a Victims’ Law needs to clearly state that responsibility for informing victims about Restorative Justice – and other services – lies jointly with the Police, victim and witness services, Youth Justice teams (local authorities) and other criminal justice agencies such as probation and prisons.
Why me?’s ambassadors emphasised the importance of Restorative Justice being raised at different stages of the process, because while some victims are interested in Restorative Justice immediately after the crime, others may not be able to even consider it until much later. The Law should therefore state that Restorative Justice can/should be offered and available to victims of crime from the day they become victims (with no end date).
There should be a dedicated communications plan and budget for government and agencies listed in the Code to ensure that frontline professionals are aware of what is required of them. A public information campaign targeted at people who are affected by crime and other harmful behaviour is essential. Why me? back the recommendation made by the APPG for RJ for more and better communications. The plan should be co-produced by communications experts, who have a good understanding of how to frame issues, along with restorative professionals and people with lived experience.
3. Equal access to Restorative Justice for everyone
Access to Restorative Justice is often mediated by professionals who are making decisions based on their own judgement about whether Restorative Justice is appropriate or not. From our discussions with people with lived experience of crime, people want to be given the option of a discussion themselves rather than have that decision made for them.
There should be universal access to services no matter what the crime, or when it occurred. In some areas of the country and in some prisons, victims of certain crimes do not have access or are denied access to Restorative Justice. Why me? propose that RJ services should be accessible to every victim no matter the crime they suffered or whether they are held in a secure institution such as prison or secure mental hospital. The Restorative Justice professional will talk through the process with the individual to find a restorative solution which is safe and achievable.
We strongly believe that Police Forces which are commissioned to deliver victim and restorative services, as opposed to third party organisations, must be able demonstrate independence and neutrality to people accessing their services. This is of particular importance for communities with protected characteristics, particularly Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, but also people with criminal convictions or who are serving sentences. Clear inspection and regulation of victims with oversight from a dedicated Minister will ensure that services are designed to meet victim needs rather than statutory budgets.
4. Victims’ wishes and views taken into account at all stages
Why me? have long promoted the right for victims to have a chance to talk about what has happened to them and get answers to their questions. An important element of the restorative process is for people to be asked their views, for those views to be taken into consideration, and to be informed about sentencing or disposal decisions as a result. When victims are consulted in this way it can not only restore feelings of well-being and control, but also lead to genuine participation with a restorative process by all parties. Many victims’ top priority is for the person to stop committing crime and Restorative Justice is proven to reduce recidivism by up 14-27%. The Why me? Out of court Disposal Good Practice Guide gives good examples of practice across the country. We would like to see a Victims’ Law make the right to being engaged and informed a duty of all agencies listed in Appendix A of the consultation.
5. An independent inspectorate of victim services should be appointed to span all the agencies responsible.
At present, there is sparse inspection of the Victims’ Code and no central coordinating body or plan, or indeed a Minister responsible. The Victims’ Bill is an ideal opportunity to propose strengthened delivery, monitoring, inspection, independent oversight and complaint handling. An annual review should be made to Parliament on how well agencies are delivering against the rights. Why me? is in favour of the increased powers of the Victims’ Commissioner to inspect and to require reports from the responsible agencies. Why me? is also in favour of victims being able to make complaints directly to the Parliamentary Ombudsman rather than via their Member of Parliament, which is the current system, because it is slow and relies on the MP to make the complaint.
Overall we need a Minister responsible for Restorative Justice who takes personal responsibility for ensuring that access to Restorative Justice delivery is universal across the country. We applaud the Government’s commitment to the Council of Europe Restorative Justice Declaration signed in December 2021 which recommends a national plan.
You have until 3rd February to respond to the consultation and can do so here: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/victim-policy/delivering-justice-for-victims/ or by email.