APPG Letter to Secretary of State regarding Victims Bill Consultation
Re: Victims’ Bill Consultation and Restorative Justice
Dear Secretary of State,
I am writing on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Restorative Justice, which I chair in response to the Victims’ Bill consultation.
As Chair of the APPG on RJ, I am aware of this Government’s commitment to tackling crime, the causes of crime and the impact it has on ordinary people’s lives. The Beating Crime Plan and the Victim Strategy, along with the revised Victim Code of Practice provide an important backdrop to this proposed piece of legislation. As I expressed in my previous correspondence to you, we are glad to see the consultation has been launched for this important piece of legislation for people harmed by crime, though we were disappointed to see that Restorative Justice is not mentioned in the consultation paper or the questions. For ease, I have structured our response in line with the Chapter headings contained within the consultation document.
Meeting victims’ expectations
We are supportive of the vision for a cultural shift so that victims are central to the way our society thinks about and responds to crime as outlined within the consultation document. Restorative Justice has a crucial role to play in realising this vision as it empowers the person harmed to communicate directly with the defendant/offender. Meeting them face-to-face, in a carefully facilitated environment, can help victims and survivors of crime to get their questions answered, express the harm that was caused, and move forward. Restorative Justice can be truly transformative, as I have been made aware by my constituents Ray and Vi Donovan who have met the three young men who killed their son Christopher.
We agree with the key principles set out in the consultation document with an important reservation. Rights 3 and 4 refer specifically to the right to receive information about restorative justice services and to be referred to them by the Police. As outlined within our inquiry report, recommendation 6, trained restorative practitioners are best placed to explain the process to a victim as RJ and its benefits can get ‘lost in translation’. Therefore we would like to see the right to an automatic referral to RJ services introduced to strengthen this right within the existing Victim Code of Practice.
We recognise that the consistent delivery of Rights 3 and 4 in respect of Restorative Justice is challenging because of the ‘postcode lottery’ of provision. Recommendations 4 and 9 of The APPG inquiry report sets out how this could be addressed through a national Restorative Justice action plan and designated minister with responsibility for Restorative Justice. These two measures will greatly assist our Government’s intentions to improve oversight and better performance of victim services and is one which we heartily support.
I remain concerned that according to the British Crime Survey around 5% of victims with a known offender are offered Restorative Justice, despite the Victims Code stating that all victims are entitled to receive information about the practices. Far more needs to be done to ensure that every victim is made aware of the Code. Recommendation 8 within our inquiry report
suggests that a new national action plan should include a specific communications plan to raise awareness amongst the public of restorative justice and practice. This plan should be co-produced by communications experts, who have a good understanding of how to frame issues, along with restorative professionals and people with lived experience.
Improving oversight and driving better performance
During the course of the APPG on RJ’s Inquiry held in Summer 2021, there was clear evidence that the sharing of information about victims and offenders at both a local and national level is a significant barrier to the effective delivery of Restorative Justice. Therefore, we recommended within our inquiry report that the Ministry of Justice, in consultation with partners, should produce a national information sharing template that can be adopted by all providers and their partners and I ask you to consider this as a practical step towards improving performance. It is noted from members of the APPG Advisory Board in their internal consultation to this Bill that delays caused by data-sharing issues has a quite considerable negative effect on victims waiting for the service.
Moving forward, the role of the Victims’ Commissioner will be crucial in ensuring that victims receive their entitlement as set out in the Victims Code particularly in relation to Rights 3 and 4. Where Restorative Justice is not part of the local provision, the Victims’ Commissioner should have the authority to challenge this and require reasons for this to be provided. An increase in powers will require the Office of the Victims’ Commissioner to be adequately resourced to carry out any new powers and/or duties delegated.
I am really delighted that there is detailed work being undertaken by the Ministry of Justice to ensure effective monitoring and evaluation of the Victim Code of Practice. Recommendation 3 within The APPG Inquiry report identified consistent data collection and analysis of Restorative Justice across all criminal justice agencies involved, as central to Restorative Justice being available to all victims of any crime as and when they need the service.
Embedding the victim’s voice in continuous service improvement
Restorative approaches and restorative justice are good ways to support victims to think about what has happened to them, and how they feel about their experience of the criminal justice system. A restorative conversation with a victim will help them to clarify what they need to cope and recover from the harm caused by crime. It follows from this that greater participation in restorative justice will have great benefits for ensuring that victims’ voices are heard.
Complaints about the application of the Code
There are opportunities for a restorative approach to be applied within formal complaints and grievance procedures. Since complaints are often a result of conflict and/or relationships being damaged, applying restorative principles would provide an opportunity for the harm to be repaired.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Restorative Justice are committed to moving the restorative sector towards a professional model of practice. We established during our Inquiry in Summer 2021 that compliance with existing practice guidance, previously funded by the Ministry of Justice, is voluntary. Therefore, we recommend that all Police and Crime Commissioners and other relevant bodies should make it a mandatory requirement for all commissioned services to be registered and to ensure integrity of practice, that restorative processes are only facilitated by practitioners who are registered, regardless of whether they are paid or unpaid.
The costs of the existing registration scheme need to be considered. At the present they are carried solely by the providers of services, costs which are passed on to the commissioners. This results in a tension between the quality and cost criteria which commissioners use to score proposals and award contracts. These costs can be onerous on individual practitioners and services and to be properly implemented would benefit from a core contribution from Government to underpin national recognition of the scheme of registration.
Supporting Victims of Crime
Restorative Justice is proven to help victims rebuild their lives and recover from the impact of crime. We are concerned that some victims are being refused RJ or simply not being referred to regional services because they or the crime type are deemed unsuitable. This is simply not fair. A professional RJ service knows how to work through the options with victims and if it is not safe to go ahead, they will support the victim to find other routes to recovery.
Therefore the APPG ask you to ensure that there are no blanket bans by PCCS restorative justice for certain offence types, instead, they should ensure that there are specialist staff trained for serious and complex cases available to assess the risks associated with a particular type of offence or additional need.
We are also of the view that a good quality consistent delivery of RJ can only be achieved if PCCs received ring-fenced funding which is sufficient to cover training, awareness raising, volunteer management and outreach work.
Communications strategies need to prioritise the provision of information about restorative justice to victims especially those with less confidence in the CJS, who often live in areas experiencing higher levels of crime. Victims and communities like these need to know about the restorative justice services available to support them, including women and girls, black and ethnic minority communities, and other protected groups.
As the chairman of the APPG on Restorative Justice, I very much hope that you will ensure Restorative Justice forms a strong part of the Victims’ Bill. Thank you for your consideration.
Elliott Colburn MP
Chairman, APPG on Restorative Justice
Please find below a list of the recommendations contained within the Inquiry Report
- Registration of commissioned services. Police and Crime Commissioners and other relevant bodies should make it a mandatory requirement for all commissioned services to be registered and to ensure integrity of practice, that restorative processes are only facilitated by practitioners who are registered, regardless of whether they are paid or unpaid. This registration process should be managed by the Restorative Justice Council, who should be given sufficient funding to support this task.
- Standardise the sharing of information. The Ministry of Justice, in consultation with partners, should produce a national information sharing template which can be adopted by all providers and their partners.
- Improving quality through effective monitoring and evaluation. Further investigation should be undertaken by the Ministry of Justice, in consultation with partners, to develop guidance for gathering and using data to monitor and evaluate restorative justice.
- Publication of a new Action Plan. The Ministry of Justice and Home Office should publish a new joint national action plan for restorative justice and practices. This should include internal actions for criminal justice settings and providers, such as embedding restorative principles into HR policies and processes, awareness raising, training involving people with lived experience in the design and delivery; and ensuring adherence to the Public Sector Equality Duty. The plan should be reviewed every three years. Alongside this, the National Police Chiefs Council, College of Policing, and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioner’s should work together to improve understanding and encourage great use of Restorative Justice and Practices amongst senior leaders in the sector.
- Reviewing ring-fenced funding for Restorative Justice practices. The Home Office should review minimum ring-fenced funding for Restorative Justice services to ensure greater consistency in accessibility across different PCC areas. This funding should also be sufficient to cover adequate training, awareness raising, volunteer management and outreach work. There should also be minimum contract terms to provide greater consistency and stability for providers to develop and nature partnership arrangements (subject to robust accountability mechanisms).
- Explore automatic rights for victims through the Victim’s Law. The new Victim’s Law should include a specific right for victims to be referred to and access restorative justice services.
- End to blanket bans. PCCs should remove any blanket bans on funding RJ for certain offence types, instead they should ensure that there are specialist staff trained for serious and complex cases available to assess the risks associated with a particular type of offence or additional need. This should be underpinned by a robust organisational (or ideally a national) policy that provides referring agencies and potential service users with a clear explanation as to why a case cannot be progressed.
- More and better communications. A new national action plan should include a specific communications plan to raise awareness amongst the public of restorative justice and practice. This plan should be co-produced by communications experts, who have a good understanding of how to frame issues, along with restorative professionals and people with lived experience.
- Government minister with specific responsibility for Restorative Justice. A Government Minister with responsibility for Restorative Justice and practices should be appointed, or this responsibility to be incorporated within a Minister of State or Undersecretary of State. This should initially be focused on the Department of Justice, though with potential for cross departmental working where it may be applicable in future.