Caution needed over restorative justice plans say critics

Sir James Munby calls for review of the guardian

According to a report by the Justice Committee of MPs, all victims of crime in England and Wales should have the legal right to contact the offender.

The report, which formed part of a recommendation to the Ministry of Justice, follows criticisms that the provision of so-called ‘restorative justice’ schemes were currently a “postcode lottery”, unavailable to many victims across the UK.

At present, victims must be told if a restorative justice scheme is available in their area, allowing the victim of a crime to meet or contact the perpetrator of the crime against them.

Under the current scheme, in order for communication to take place, the offender must have admitted to the crime and both the victim and the offender must be willing to participate.

Supporters of the restorative justice argue that it ‘reduces reoffending among criminals who are confronted with the consequences of their crimes, while victims are able to put the experience behind them.

However, MPs say they have uncovered inconsistencies in how the schemes are applied across the UK and measures were needed to improve the provision of the schemes.

The MPs said that the government should now “work towards” enshrining the victim’s right to restorative justice in law.

However, some have expressed concern that the plans could go too far if all offenders are compelled to face their victims.

Rachel Adamson, a Criminal Law solicitor and Partner at the national law firm, Stephensons, said: “The idea that victims of a crime should be able to contact and meet with the person who committed the offence is not new. So-called ‘restorative justice’ schemes have been mooted for a number of years and had a positive impact in helping some offenders consider their actions and prevent reoffending – although obviously not in all cases.

“Of course, if this form of restorative justice is available - and the victim wishes to pursue it - then they should be allowed to. But we should be wary of underestimating the impact that such meetings can have – not just upon the victim, but also the offender.

“Those victims who have experienced restorative justice first hand say that it is not for everyone. Equally, I would argue it is not the right measure for every offender.

“We should be wary of making this debate too black and white. Not all people who commit offences are hardened, habitual criminals. Many are simply ordinary, previously law abiding people who through adverse circumstances or a moment of madness find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

“While the impact of an offence can be life changing for the victim, the same can be said about the offender. We need to ensure that enabling the victim to pursue restorative justice does not impact on the right of the offender to move on with his or her life - particularly if they have a family or children.

“Forcing this type of offender to face their victim could create a barrier to this process of resolution and recovery.”

ENDS