Will the Victims and Prisoners Bill improve victims’ rights to Restorative Justice?

Published: Friday, March 31st, 2023

This is a blog written by our Campaigns and Communications Manager Meka Beresford.

This week, the Victims Bill was introduced to the House of Commons as the Victims and Prisoners Bill.

Why me? are pleased to see that the much-anticipated legislation has been formally introduced following over a year of extensive consultation with the public, experts, and front-line organisations. The Bill is integral to ensuring that victims of crime have a better experience of the Criminal Justice System and whilst it takes significant steps toward improving victims’ rights, we are concerned by the introduction of previously unseen measures that may detract from the Bill’s intended aim of improving victims’ experiences.

The Victims and Prisoners Bill is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve victims’ rights. This includes improving victims’ access to Restorative Justice.

Why me? have collaborated with the Criminal Justice Alliance and the Restorative Justice Council to develop three amendments that would strengthen victims’ rights and access to Restorative Justice. 

Amendment 1: Provide for the full Victims’ Code in primary legislation to enshrine victims’ rights and strengthen their access to Restorative Justice.

The draft legislation does not place the 12 rights of the Victims Code into primary legislation. Instead, the Bill requires the Secretary of State to issue a code that reflects four overarching principles. Distilling victims’ entitlements from 12 rights to four key principles risks diluting rather than strengthening them.

We ask MPs and Lords to schedule amendments to the Bill so the 12 rights in the Code are included in the primary legislation, instead of the four principles. This will strengthen victims’ entitlements, including receiving information about and access to RJ.

Amendment 2: Provide for the right to be referred to a Restorative Justice service for information.

A right to information about Restorative Justice and how to access local Restorative Justice services is already an entitlement in the Code but it is not being delivered consistently. Providing victims the right to be referred to their local Restorative Justice service will enable the victim to make a better-informed decision about whether Restorative Justice is right for them. 

The Justice Select Committee recognised the importance of Restorative Justice within its pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Victims Bill, noting that the legislation ‘should include a provision for victims to have a legislative right to access Restorative Justice services’. We support the recommendation the Committee made that:

‘Criminal justice agencies must provide victims with the information they need throughout the entirety of their case, from reporting through to post-conviction in a language or format that they can understand; this should include information on restorative justice where appropriate.’

The government rejected the recommendation. We ask that parliamentarians table an amendment that would provide for the right to be referred to a Restorative Justice service for information in a language or format that the victim can understand.

Amendment 3: Improve strategic oversight of Restorative Justice with a national action plan.

The Ministry of Justice has previously produced a Restorative Justice Action Plan aimed at widening its use throughout the CJS and overcoming the structural barriers limiting its effectiveness. However, the Ministry of Justice has not produced a Restorative Justice Action Plan since 2018, leading to a lack of strategic leadership and oversight. We want to prevent the production of action plans from lapsing again, so victims have consistent and improved access to Restorative Justice.  If the action plan is not provided for in legislation, we are concerned the lack of strategic leadership on Restorative Justice will persist and victims will continue to miss out.

What’s next?

The Victims and Prisoners Bill is now in it’s first reading, which is a formal stage. MPs will consider the Bill at its second reading, a date for which has not yet been announced.

You can help support secure Restorative Justice in this once-in-a-lifetime legislation by writing to your MP. Why me? will continue to update our work on the Victims and Prisoners Bill on our website, in our newsletter, and on our social media. Be sure to follow.

Read More:

The Victims and Prisoners Bill

A Victims View: Why RJ needs to be included in the Victims’ Bill. 

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