What should the Home Office’s priorities be on restorative justice?

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Jon Collins
19 September 2016

As with the Ministry of Justice, the subject of a previous blog, the whole ministerial team at the Home Office changed before the summer, with a fresh face in every ministerial position. Yet, with the previous Home Secretary now in Downing Street, we can reasonably expect more continuity in Home Office policy than in many other departments. Amber Rudd will want to make her mark as Home Secretary, of course, but it’s hard to see a radical reshaping of her predecessor’s agenda.

What does this mean for restorative practice? Well, Theresa May’s strongest intervention on this issue while she was Home Secretary was at this year’s Police Federation Annual Conference, when she strongly condemned the use of restorative justice in cases involving domestic violence, stating:

“I know that restorative justice is meant to be victim-led and I know that guidance says it should be considered in all cases. But I simply do not believe it follows either the evidence or common sense to sit vulnerable victims across from perpetrators who for months and years may have destroyed their confidence, manipulated their mind, and beaten their bodies.”

This, as she acknowledged, goes against the Victims’ Code, which states that victims should not be excluded from taking part in restorative justice because of the type of crime committed against them. So a clearer position needs to be found. We believe that restorative justice should be offered to victims of domestic violence, wherever it is safe to do so, but that the police should not be using it informally - often known as ‘street restorative justice’ - in these cases. The same position was recently taken by the Justice Select Committee in the report of their inquiry on restorative justice. The Home Office should now remove any ambiguity from the current situation by endorsing this position.

The Home Office is also focusing its attention on tackling hate crime, following the worrying spike in these offences in recent months. A new action plan has been published, which disappointingly doesn’t mention restorative justice. It does, however, highlight the need to improve support for the victims of hate crime and evidence suggests that restorative justice can achieve this. As I’ve written before, all agencies dealing with hate crime must therefore ensure that restorative justice is at the heart of their response. The Home Office can do a great deal to engender this, not least through its current funding programme for hate crime projects.

The Home Office also has a role to play in forthcoming reforms to out of court disposals. While the Ministry of Justice led on the recent pilot of a new approach to out of court disposals, this is an area where the Home Office has a clear interest. Simplifying the out of court disposal framework, as tested in the pilot, is a welcome step. But the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice should ensure that when the new approach is confirmed, restorative justice is at its heart. This would be effective in reducing reoffending but would also ensure that victims get a positive resolution to the offence.

Finally, if out of court disposals are to routinely involve restorative justice, the Home Office must work with the College of Policing and the RJC to ensure that police officers and PCSOs have the right training to enable them to deliver this approach. We know that for restorative justice to be effective, it must be done well. Proper training is key to achieving this and the Home Office must ensure that this is in place consistently across the country. Otherwise victims of crime are being put at risk of being exposed to poor, or even dangerous, practice.

Much of the responsibility for restorative justice policy is now with the Ministry of Justice, but there is still much that the Home Office can do to promote its use. This would benefit victims but also cut crime, helping the Home Office to achieve its goals. Since 2010 a minister – most recently Mike Penning – has worked across the Home Office and Ministry of Justice. This is no longer the case. But it remains essential that these two departments work closely together. Increasing the use of restorative justice is just one area on which they must collaborate and we will be doing everything we can to encourage that.