The RJC launches its consultation on the use of restorative justice in cases of domestic and sexual violence and abuse
We are currently formulating our policy position on the use of the whole range of restorative approaches with those affected by domestic and sexual abuse and violence.
By the “whole range of restorative approaches” we have in mind the ‘Restorative Continuum’, as for example, set out in the Northern Ireland Executive's Adult Restorative Justice Strategy published last year - see diagram below. The tendency to focus on direct dialogue between harmed and harmer has been particularly unhelpful in the discussion about the use of restorative practice in respect of these types of crimes and incidents.
The Restorative Continuum
(Source: Adult Restorative Justice Strategy for Northern Ireland, NI Dept of Justice, 2022)
We have chosen to consider several distinct aspects of domestic and sexual abuse and violence in a holistic way. However, we understand this umbrella term embraces a wide range of crime types and that the appropriateness of using restorative justice may well vary across that range. We recognise there are concerns that some offenders could manipulate restorative justice processes to continue their abuse. The RJC also wants to ensure that the legal definition of domestic abuse contained in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 is fully considered. This includes familial abuse.
Throughout our consultation document, the term “harmed” is used for the victim / survivor and “harmer” for the defendant / offender / perpetrator, in line with best restorative practice. However, it is recognised that the language used can be problematic. The third of the consultation questions asks for views about this.
Some practitioners prefer to use the term “criminal legal system” rather than “criminal justice system” in recognition of the system’s failure to deliver justice, especially in this area. However, the term CJS (Criminal Justice System) has been used as it is more widely understood in the UK at present.
The consultation welcomes contributions internationally as well as from England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
Current RJC Policy
The current position of the RJC, which is set out in our Practice Guidance, is that cases of domestic and sexual abuse and violence fall into the category of sensitive and complex cases, which should only be facilitated by an experienced practitioner, preferably holding RJC Registered Practitioner status at advanced level. They should also have undertaken specialist training and be experienced in supporting victims and survivors of domestic abuse. This must include a good understanding of coercive controlling behaviour (CCB). The RJ practitioner should undertake work with both the victim and the offender to make sure the six principles are applied. The risk assessment should be reviewed regularly and carried out in partnership with other statutory bodies and specialist domestic and sexual violence services supporting the harmed and the harmer. The restorative justice practitioner will undertake a risk assessment which will inform whether it is safe to proceed. It is a possible outcome that based on an assessment of risk, the practitioner and service provider determine that restorative justice is not suitable, and the expectations of those involved need to be managed with this in mind. Practitioners and services will base their decision to progress a case based on the information gathered during the risk assessment process. The RJ process does not necessarily mean that participants will meet face to face. Indirect processes could be more suitable. It is important to be aware of the whole spectrum comprising the Restorative Continuum and look for the most appropriate techniques to use in each case. The RJC also expect service providers to work in partnership with other organisations/agencies supporting the harmed / harmer including Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs), Independent Domestic Violence Advisers (IDVAs) and other specialist domestic abuse and sexual violence services. The RJC is in dialogue with the Office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and intends to consult the specialist domestic and sexual abuse and violence sectors about this draft policy before making final decisions.
Why a review?
There are several reasons why the RJC feels that our current position needs to be reviewed. We are aware of the controversy, especially around the use of restorative justice in cases of domestic abuse. There are strongly held opinions about this both within the restorative justice sector and the specialist domestic and sexual violence sectors. The policies of PCCs (Police and Crime Commissioners) and Police forces vary across England and Wales. There is a level of demand for restorative justice from harmed and harmers, although this is difficult to assess properly in the light of the evidence that information about RJ is not always provided in line with statutory guidance e.g., the Victims Code. Additionally, it is important to understand if this can be delivered using a safe approach, in some circumstances, to empower survivors to make a choice that is best for them when fully informed of the process and risks.
We are keen to hear as wide a range of opinions as possible during this review. We are especially interested in the insights of service users, harmed, harmers and others directly affected. We want to hear not only from the restorative justice sector and the specialist domestic and sexual abuse sectors, but also from policymakers, service providers, training organisations, commissioners, and individual practitioners across the criminal justice, education, and health sectors. We want to hear from those who support harmers, such as probation officers, prison officers, and perpetrator programmes. We want to take account of the latest insights from research in the UK and internationally.
The first stage of the consultation is a call for written submissions. You can access our online questionnaire using the link below:
We hope that you will take the opportunity to share your views on this important area of practice and help shape the RJC’s future policy position and practice standards.
The initial consultation will close on Friday 7th July 2023 at 5pm.
We are committed to feeding back the results of this consultation to all those who have expressed an interest before making final decisions.