Closing the gaps in restorative justice provision

Last week, the RJC released the results of a mapping exercise of restorative justice provision in the criminal justice sector, carried out on our behalf by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at Birkbeck University. This exercise was far from straightforward and the results are, as with any survey, limited by who was willing to respond. But what is clear from the resulting report, and our own work with providers across the country, is that a victim’s access to restorative justice still varies significantly based on where they live.

So if you are a victim of crime in, for example, Sussex or South Yorkshire, then there is a very good chance that if the offender is caught and admits guilt then you will be offered restorative justice. And if you have been a victim of crime and actively want to access restorative justice, you would certainly be able to do so (unless, in some areas, you’re a victim of domestic violence. But that’s a blog for another day).

In other places that simply isn’t the case. There may be good reasons why some areas have done less to develop restorative provision so far. But it is nearly two and a half years since the Ministry of Justice announced that funding would be made available to police and crime commissioners to make restorative justice available to victims of crime in their areas, yet in some places that hasn’t happened. There are still gaps and significant local variation in provision.

This isn’t the criticism it once was, given the government’s commitment to localism and devolution. Local variation is an inevitable consequence of this approach. But it nonetheless seems unfair that in some areas of the country victims of crime can easily access restorative justice but in others they can’t. So what can we do about it? Two opportunities stand out.

The first, as I have discussed before, is a future Victims’ Law, which was promised in the last Queen’s Speech but has not yet emerged. If and when it does, it should – in my view – include an entitlement for all victims of crime to be able to access a restorative justice service. There would then be a reciprocal duty on the government (in all likelihood discharged through PCCs) to provide it. This would mean that a service in every area would be, in effect, required by legislation.

Until this happens, though, the reality is that the decision as to whether to make restorative justice available to victims will rest largely with PCCs. And this provides the second opportunity, with elections coming up in May. Around a quarter of PCCs won’t be standing again while others may not be successful in winning re-election. That will result in a lot of new faces. And even for the ones who do secure a second term, it will be an opportunity to assess the progress that they have made and recalibrate their priorities.

This will clearly be an important time to highlight the benefits of restorative justice to this small, but highly influential, group of individuals. The RJC has today published a guide to restorative justice for PCC candidates, which we hope will help to ensure that they recognise its benefits. And once the elections have taken place we will be working hard to promote restorative justice to incoming PCCs. We need to win them over, one by one if necessary.

In the meantime, it’s easy to criticise PCCs in some areas for not doing enough to promote restorative justice. But it’s important to recognise that this is a work in progress – the PCC role is still in its infancy and restorative justice is only a tiny part of a broad-ranging and challenging job. I’m confident that further progress will be made. Because I think that it’s self-evident that all victims of crime should have access to the same services, wherever in the country they live.