What’s in the manifestos for restorative justice?

With the general election a little over two weeks away, campaigning is in full swing and the main three parties have published their manifestos.

As expected, crime and criminal justice have not been prominent in the campaign so far, with the exception of the fallout from Dianne Abbott’s excruciating interview on the cost of Labour’s pledge to recruit 10,000 more police officers. But all of the manifestos contain the obligatory sections on law and order, so what do they tell us about the prospects of restorative justice in the next parliament?

The most likely party to form the next government, if the polls are to be believed, is the Conservatives and their manifesto is the only one of the main three not to mention restorative justice at all. It does, however, pledge to “enshrine victims’ entitlements in law”, carrying forward the commitment made in their 2015 manifesto. This is welcome and if this legislation is introduced there will be work to do to ensure that an entitlement to access restorative justice is included.

Also of interest is a commitment to introduce a “national community sentencing framework” to ensure that community sentences focus on “the measures that have a better chance of turning people around and preventing crime”. Given the evidence demonstrating the efficacy of restorative justice in reducing reoffending, it should be central to this framework. In 2016, nearly 75,000 offenders were given a Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR) as part of a community sentence, and legislation specifically states that a RAR can include restorative justice. This is therefore a significant opportunity to enable many more offenders, and victims, to access restorative justice. Prison reform will also be continuing and, as I’ve argued before, restorative practice should be at the heart of this.

Unlike the Conservatives, the Labour manifesto has a specific reference to restorative justice, promising to “embed restorative justice practices across all youth offending institutions”. This is oddly specific – why not Secure Training Centres, for example? – and there is no further information on what it will involve. It is nonetheless extremely welcome. Restorative practice can be an effective way to make custodial institutions safer and fairer, and embedding it across the youth estate would be a positive first step towards its use across the whole prison system. The manifesto also states that “Labour will insist on personal rehabilitation plans for all prisoners.” Access to restorative justice should be central to these.

The Labour manifesto also promises to “ensure appropriate support is provided to victims of crime” and to “introduce legislation for minimum standard entitlements to service from criminal justice agencies”. This is welcome, and cross-party support for a Victims’ Law should ensure that it happens in the next parliament - as I argued in the most recent edition of Resolution (available here for members. If you’re not a member of the RJC you can join here).

The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto also specifically mentions restorative justice. It promises that the Liberal Democrats would “promote community justice panels and restorative justice that brings victims and wrongdoers together to resolve conflict, reduce harm and encourage rehabilitation”. This is good to see and reflects the party’s longstanding support for restorative justice. Much more would need to be done to set out what this would involve and how it would be implemented, but it is very positive to see it included.

The manifesto also commits to introducing a Victims’ Bill of Rights that would, among other things, give victims the “right to request restorative justice rather than a prison sentence”. While the thrust of this is welcome, and both secures cross-party support for a Victims’ Law and introduces an entitlement to restorative justice, the last clause is problematic. Restorative justice can take place alongside a prison sentence, of course, and asking victims to choose between the two would be both unhelpful and difficult to implement.

Across the manifestos, then, there is not the wholesale commitment to restorative justice that we would like to see. That’s not a surprise, though it’s disappointing nonetheless. But whatever the outcome of the election, it seems like a Victims’ Law will become a reality. It will be an RJC priority to ensure that when this emerges, it contains an entitlement to access a restorative justice service for all victims of crime.