Priorities for the new-look Ministry of Justice

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Date: 
1 August 2016

When Theresa May became Prime Minister in July, she carried out a comprehensive reshuffle which extended far beyond the cabinet. Those expecting continuity were largely confounded, with the Ministry of Justice being particularly affected by the sweeping changes. The entire ministerial team was moved out - most not just out of the department, but out of the government and onto the backbenches.

In their place came a whole new team, led by Liz Truss. Among them is Dr Phillip Lee MP, who, as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Victims, Youth and Family Justice, has ministerial responsibility for restorative justice (a portfolio previously held by Mike Penning). Dr Lee, a GP before entering parliament in 2010, has no particular background in this policy area and he will have a lot on his plate.

In prioritising which issues to look at, however, the Ministry of Justice will be aware that the Justice Select Committee has now signed off its report on restorative justice, and is therefore expected to be published in the next few weeks. The new minister will want to be up to speed on this issue. So, what should his priorities be for restorative justice?

First, we’d like to see more victims being offered restorative justice. A green paper on a Victims’ Bill was due before the summer parliamentary recess. Given the changes in the government it unsurprisingly and understandably did not emerge. But a Victims’ Law was a Conservative manifesto commitment, so it’s unlikely to be scrapped entirely. When it is published, it should significantly strengthen victims’ rights with regards to restorative justice by, as I’ve argued before, giving every victim an entitlement to be offered restorative justice. Police and Crime Commissioners should be responsible for ensuring that the required services are available.

Second, the Ministry of Justice should publish an updated Restorative justice action plan. The most recent of these action plans, which have underpinned much of the progress that has been made in recent years, was due for renewal in April and a new set of actions is now required to deliver on the existing strategic goals (which run through to 2018). Exactly what should be in a new action plan will have to wait for another blog, but its publication would both co-ordinate ongoing work and restate the government’s commitment to promoting the use of high quality restorative justice.

Third, the Ministry of Justice should look at what the next steps should be in ensuring quality in the delivery of restorative justice. This is a key issue – if restorative justice is to deliver on its potential it must be done well - and while real progress has been made, there is still the potential to go further. The next step should be for it to be mandatory for all organisations receiving statutory funding for restorative justice to work towards achieving the Restorative Service Quality Mark (which has recently been updated and relaunched). This would be a significant move in ensuring quality in delivery, giving commissioners and partners confidence and – most importantly – benefitting the people who take part.

These aren’t the only things that need to be done to enable restorative justice to develop and thrive. But they would set a clear direction of travel, demonstrate that the Ministry of Justice remains committed to restorative justice and show that all the work carried out in recent years isn’t going to be wasted. We know that restorative justice works. Now it’s up to Dr Lee to make sure that the Ministry of Justice continues to take the lead in enabling every victim of crime to access a high quality restorative justice service.

My next two blogs will look at priorities for the Home Office and the Department for Education. Any ideas are welcome, via the comments below or email.