By Nina Champion, Director of the Criminal Justice Alliance and Lucy Jaffé, Director of Why me?
The CJA and Why me? are disappointed that last night the government said measures to increase access to restorative justice, which can significantly improve the wellbeing of victims and cut reoffending, would be an ‘unnecessary bureaucratic burden.’
We recently worked with Baroness Meacher, who tabled an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which would require the Ministry of Justice and Home Office to renew a national action plan for RJ and report on progress against that plan to parliament, in order to increase accountability.
A cross-party group of MPs and peers also called for a national action plan as part of the first inquiry from the APPG on Restorative Justice, chaired by Elliot Colburn MP. The report and recommendations followed wide consultation with RJ providers, victim services, academics and people with lived experience of RJ, who said that a plan was needed to unlock its potential across the criminal justice system (CJS).
Discussing Baroness Meacher’s amendment yesterday evening, many peers spoke of their desire to see greater access to RJ and the importance of a national action plan to help end the ‘postcode lottery’ which Why me? and the CJA have previously highlighted. Lord Marks argued that a national action plan would be an indication of the government’s commitment to RJ and, without one, there is a risk progress would stall. Lady Bennett called for RJ to be the foundation of our CJS rather than an afterthought, hence the need for an action plan to ensure a whole-system restorative approach.
Lord Wolfson, responding on behalf of the government, agreed that RJ, in the right circumstances, can have ‘far-reaching benefits’ and that the government supports RJ where it can be suitably used. However, he argued that ‘a statutory framework for an action plan will simply create unnecessary bureaucratic burden’ and that ‘work is already underway to improve the current position of RJ.’
The amendment had the support not only of peers, but of the Victims’ Commissioner and also Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne who said at the launch event for the amendment: ‘The last national action plan for Restorative Justice ended in 2018 and unfortunately has not been renewed, leading to a less cohesive service for victims to access. The proposed amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill provides an opportunity to re-establish some strategic oversight and regalvanise Restorative Justice as a readily available offer for all victims of crime.’
We hope that, given the strength of feeling in the House of Lords, the amendment will be re-tabled and reconsidered at report stage. For more information, see our briefing here.