The intersection of road policing and restorative justice: a victim led approach

I was honoured to accept the invitation to participate in this year's Road Policing Seminar which featured a panel discussion on the implementation of victim-centered approaches in road policing. Sponsored by Slater and Gordon Lawyers, the panel touched upon various topics such as the growing work demand on Roads Policing and Family Liaison Officers, the contributions of charities in assisting victims and their loved ones after fatal and life changing road collisions, and how restorative justice could intersect with policing in helping to repair the harm caused to victims and their families.

The panel was headed by Brian Booth who serves as the Roads Policing Lead for the Police Federation of England and Wales. Other members included myself, Andy Cox, a Detective Chief Superintendent at the Metropolitan Police, Richard Crabtree, a Principal Lawyer with expertise in Serious Injury at Slater and Gordon, Raymond Williams, who holds the role of Police Relationship Manager at Slater and Gordon, and Ross Moorlock, the CEO of Brake, a respected road safety charity.

In the panel discussion, we were given two questions to consider:

  1. As the workload for Roads Policing and Family Liaison Officers continues to grow, is there a decrease in the support offered to victims and their families?
  2. How do we define justice after a fatal road crash or when facing a life-altering injury?

In this article, I share my viewpoint on the RJC's position on these important matters.

With ever increasing workloads for Roads Policing and Family Liaison Officers, is this limiting the support made available to victims and their families?

The  roads of the United Kingdom are becoming increasingly chaotic, with an ever-growing number of vehicles and a fast-paced way of life. With this, we turn to our dedicated roads policing officers to ensure the safety of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. However, with the constant pressure and limited resources, are these officers able to fully support victims and their families in times of trauma?

Every day there are a high number of road traffic collisions on UK roads, some resulting in fatalities and life-changing injuries. And while roads policing officers work tirelessly to secure the scene, collect evidence, and manage traffic flow, they are also expected to juggle multiple tasks at once. This can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, making it challenging to provide the necessary support for victims and their families during an already difficult time.

It is undeniable that roads policing officers play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of our roads. However, with the increasing pressure and demands placed on them, it is worth questioning whether they have the capacity to fulfil their core duties without compromising the support they provide to victims and their families.

In recent years, there has been a growing call for a more proactive and inclusive approach to victim and family support by combining roads policing with restorative justice, where this is appropriate. This approach has already been successfully implemented in other areas of the criminal justice system and has the potential to be equally successful in roads policing.

Restorative justice aims to bring together victims, offenders, and the community to address the harm and find a resolution that benefits all parties. It gives victims the opportunity to be heard, receive answers to their questions, and participate in decision-making processes. The involvement of offenders can also aid in their rehabilitation and prevent future offences.

Implementing restorative justice in roads policing does not mean replacing existing processes; rather, it has the potential to enhance the support offered to victims and their families. It can provide a safe and supportive environment for them to express their emotions, ask questions, and have a say in the outcome of the case. This can be especially beneficial in cases where the offender has shown genuine remorse and willingness to make amends.

In a profession that deals with traumatic and emotional situations, it is vital to have a proactive and inclusive approach that considers the well-being of both the victim and the offender. By integrating restorative justice into roads policing, officers can continue to fulfil their core duties while enabling much-needed support and closure for victims and their families.

In order for this to occur, it is essential that appropriate resources are allocated to roads policing and family liaison officers so that they can effectively manage the overwhelming workload they confront. Additionally, leaders within the force must recognise the advantages of implementing a restorative approach to assist victims in the aftermath of severe and fatal road incidents.

What is justice following a fatal road crash or after sustaining a life changing injury?

When we hear the word "justice," our minds often jump to images of courtrooms, prison sentences, and monetary compensation. But justice is so much more than that. In broad terms, it refers to fairness and a sense of moral rightness. And in the context of a fatal road crash or life-changing injury, justice takes on a whole new meaning. It also becomes about seeking closure and healing for the victims and their families.

The legal system plays a crucial role in seeking justice for road crash victims. If the driver responsible for the incident is found to have been driving recklessly or under the influence of drugs and alcohol, they may face criminal charges and potential prison time. This can provide a sense of accountability, especially for the families of those who lost their lives or were severely injured.

But justice is not only about seeking punishment. It also involves emotional healing and finding closure for the victims and their families. While therapy and support from loved ones can play a role in this, accessing restorative justice can be a significant source of healing.

Restorative justice focusses on repairing the harm caused by a crime or wrongdoing while holding the offender accountable for their actions. It involves bringing together the offender, the victim, and other stakeholders to discuss the harm caused and work towards a resolution that benefits everyone involved.

Frequently, we receive feedback from individuals who have been harmed that the legal system neglects to provide the necessary answers to their most pressing questions. This was the experience of a young person who sustained life changing injuries as a result of a car crash.

In a recent interview, he expressed his desire to understand the reasons behind his friend group's decision to get into the car after a night out. However, due to the severity of his injuries, he had limited memory of the accident and was eager to gather all the details about what had occurred that day, especially the cause of the crash. Unfortunately, as soon as the police got involved, he felt that his queries were no longer viewed as significant. Despite repeatedly asking for answers from the professionals assisting him in the legal process, he was unable to obtain any information from the driver, who happened to be his friend.

Through the use of restorative justice, he gained the important information he needed and achieved some sense of closure. This experience served as the catalyst for his healing journey and acceptance of his injuries.

This individual's experience is just one of numerous examples that emphasise the fact that justice for those affected by road crashes extends beyond mere punishment or monetary reparation. It encompasses the pursuit of responsibility, resolution, and recovery for all those impacted by the event. Restorative justice offers a distinctive and efficient approach in attaining these objectives.

Some may question the effectiveness of restorative justice in roads policing, but it has been successfully implemented in other areas of the criminal justice system. Similarly, it can be just as successful in this context. One of the reasons for this is that it promotes a more proactive and inclusive approach towards road policing. Instead of just focusing on enforcing laws and punishing offenders, restorative justice looks at addressing the root causes of why the offence occurred in the first place.

The RJC welcomes the discussion of restorative justice at this year's roads policing seminar. The panel clearly recognised the need to improve processes for supporting victims and their families after serious and fatal road collisions. While there is still much progress to be made, the overall impression from this seminar session is that there is a shared determination to integrate restorative justice into roads policing.

The RJC remains committed to collaborating with the UK's Police Federation and National Police Chiefs Council in order to advance these talks and handle the challenges involved in implementing a restorative approach in UK road policing.