Cross-party support for Restorative Justice in House of Lords

Published: Friday, January 26th, 2024


This is a blog by our Communications and Campaigns Manager, Keeva Baxter. Updated by Communications and Campaigns Officer, Isabelle Gius, on 2nd February 2024.

 

On Wednesday, the Victims and Prisoners Bill went to the Committee Stage in the House of Lords. This means that the amendments tabled by Peers were discussed in Parliament. The Victims and Prisoners Bill is a unique opportunity to strengthen the rights of victims of crime, ensuring that they can access Restorative Justice. 

We are pleased to say that Restorative Justice was mentioned numerous times in the debate, with enthusiastic support from multiple, cross-party Peers. 

What was being debated? 

Prior to the debate in Parliament, Why me?, in conjunction with the Criminal Justice Alliance, Belong and Catch 22, put together a briefing highlighting the importance of Restorative Justice and the need for legislative measures to increase access to it. 

We were delighted that, following her receipt of our briefing and contact with RJ4All, Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle tabled an amendment on Restorative Justice as follows: 

This amendment would mean that victims of crime have a legal right to be referred to a Restorative Justice service. While the right to information on Restorative Justice is currently in the Victims’ Code of Practice, we know that the vast majority of victims of crime never hear about it. Therefore, it is paramount that this right is enshrined in legislation, strengthening the right so it is legally enforceable. 

Baroness Bennett tabled several other amendments around Restorative Justice too. One amendment introduces a substantive definition of Restorative Justice into the Bill, and another assigns a government responsibility to issue guidance on Restorative Justice. Alongside Baroness Bennett’s amendments, Lord Harries of Pentregarth also tabled an amendment on the right to a referral to a Restorative Justice service, endorsed by Lord Blunkett, Lord Garnier and Baroness Hamwee. 

What happened in the House of Lords?

Why me? was pleased to see an extremely positive reception to Restorative Justice, with many Peers expressing their support. Baroness Gohir, Lord Garnier, Baroness Newlove and Baroness Hamwee all stated their support for the amendments put forward to strengthen access to RJ. 

The Victims Commissioner, Baroness Helen Newlove, also spoke in favour of Restorative Justice. She directly referenced Why me? and our Valuing Victims work, which exposes the “postcode lottery” experienced by victims of crime trying to access a restorative service. She also highlighted the barriers presented by poor data collection leading to inconsistent monitoring. The Victims’ Commissioner concluded that the current provision of Restorative Justice is in breach of victims’ entitlement under the Victims’ Code of Practice, endorsing the amendments to secure Restorative Justice in legislation. 

“In 2023, the Why me? charity published a report showing that the lowest reported spending by a PCC on such services was £6,250, while the highest was £397,412. The type of crime where RJ is available varies, as do the conditions of service provision.” – Baroness Newlove in the House of Lords

Baroness Gohir highlighted the “particular information gap when it comes to minority-ethnic victims” explaining that “they were not informed or made aware of the victims’ code, nor of the restorative justice service.” This finding mirrors Why me?’s work with communities who speak English as an Additional Language.

Ultimately, as Lord Harries aptly said in the debate, “if RJ were part of the Bill, people would be more aware of it, it would be more accessible, and those responsible for administering the system would feel more accountable for it.”

What next?

The House of Lords session came to a close at 10pm, before the Minister had the opportunity to respond to the proposed amendments. As such, we have no indication about how the Government will respond to these proposals. The debate will be picked up on the 31st of January. We will keep you updated as to the progression of the amendments and what this means for Restorative Justice. 

“It is heartening that Wednesday’s debate in the House of Lords demonstrated enthusiasm and nuanced understanding about the life-changing benefits of Restorative Justice. For so long, victims of crime have been unaware and ill-informed about their option to participate. This debate signals the potential to change that.” – Lucy Jaffé, Director of Why me?

Update

On Wednesday, the 31st of January, the Victims and Prisoners Bill was considered in Committee in the House of Lords for the second time. The topic of Restorative Justice was discussed again, gathering support from multiple cross-party Peers. After powerful speeches from Lord Hogson of Astley Abbotts, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group, Baroness Brinton, and others, Lord Bellamy laid out the Government’s position: that specific services such as RJ should not be included in the Bill. 

“No one is denying the importance of restorative justice,” Lord Bellamy said. “No one is saying it is a waste of time or should not be there; on the contrary, we are saying that its profile should be raised. The only argument is about how we do that, and the Government’s position is that we do not do it by an amendment to the Bill itself.” 

Whilst we are disappointed that the amendments around Restorative Justice did not move forward, we are thankful to the Lords that endorsed Restorative Justice so fully. Their speeches brought attention to the lack of awareness around Restorative Justice and the need for stronger legislative enforcement of the rights currently in the Victims’ Code. 

We also celebrate the fact that there has been so much interest in Restorative Justice amongst decision makers, leading to an unprecedented number of amendments. We are happy to have contributed and collaborated with other organisations on this important work.

You can access the full transcript of Wednesday’s debate here.

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