In this joint-blog to celebrate Restorative Justice Week (20-26 November 2022), the Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA) and the Restorative Justice Council (RJC) outline how we have been working together, along with our respective members, to improve the national picture of Restorative Justice (RJ) across the criminal justice system in England and Wales.
Both the RJC and the CJA have been working closely on strengthening victims’ legislative rights to restorative justice in the draft Victims Bill, diversifying the RJ workforce and increasing minority groups’ awareness, access and participation in RJ.
The RJC and the restorative sector (including RJC and CJA members) have been advising the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Restorative Justice on how they can improve RJ policy and practice nationally, including raising practitioner standards within the criminal justice sector and making sure those impacted by the criminal justice system have universal access to RJ.
Raising practitioner standards within the criminal justice sector
The RJ sector relies heavily on volunteer practitioners who may not be held to the same standard as paid practitioners or have any formal qualifications. To raise standards for sensitive and complex cases (SCC), the APPG on RJ have recommended that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) work and consult with relevant experts and leaders – in restorative justice, and also in the domestic abuse and sexual violence sectors – to review the training for using RJ for SCC and to develop specific practice standards. The RJC will be working with the APPG to progress the recommendations made over the coming year.
Widening access to restorative justice in the criminal justice system
There is currently a postcode lottery in England and Wales which can prevent some victims from accessing RJ across all areas of England and Wales.
In order for victims to have more equal access, the highly inconsistent levels of funding for adult RJ services needs to be addressed. As such, the APPG on RJ have recommended that part of MoJ’s overall funding for victims’ services should have a dedicated minimum fund for providing RJ.
The postcode lottery is worsened by significant regional differences about which victims can access RJ. For example, some areas exclude victims of certain offences, such as those who have experienced domestic abuse and sexual violence. The RJC, the CJA and our members are also recommending that commissioners remove any blanket bans which prevent victim’s accessing RJ services based on the type of offence, location or time. A victim’s voice and decision to choose an RJ intervention should be respected and supported. There should be no additional barriers to victims’ healing.
Improving racial, ethnic and cultural representation and participation within the RJ sector
Through the CJA’s work with members and restorative justice practitioners, PCC offices, victims hubs and government officials, we have found that victims from minoritised backgrounds and with different protected characteristics can experience unequal access to RJ services.
To begin making RJ more accessible to victims from minoritised groups, we have recommended that:
- PCCs, commissioners and victims support services need to collect more consistent and standardised data to understand and rectify who is (or isn’t) accessing services.
- More sustainable and accessible funding for specialist services, including ring-fenced budgets and grants for ‘by and for’ organisations.
- RJ services to do more to involve and include people who have lived experienced of the CJS in designing and delivering their services, in order to make them more inclusive and improve trust.
In research commissioned by the RJC, academics at the University of Gloucestershire found that for the RJ field to broaden the cultural and ethnic representation of restorative practitioners, it needs to become more inclusive, actively deal with systemic discrimination and create an environment that supports diverse leadership. The RJC and the CJA recently held a Restorative Leaders Summit to discuss this, including how leaders in the restorative sector can develop anti-racist approaches.
To broaden representation, there needs to be change across policy and practices (such as the funding structure in the RJ sector), and more specific approaches and support needs to be introduced (such as devising awareness campaigns in specific communities and establishing more diverse practitioner networks). In response, the RJC have committed to:
- Support the launch, growth and development of the Black Restorative Network to support Black RJ practitioners and to encourage people from Black communities to engage in restorative practices.
- Launch a bursary scheme to increase access to RJC’s membership and other support.
- Consider commissioning research focused on increasing diverse communities’ awareness of RJ.
Strengthening victims’ statutory rights to restorative justice in the draft Victims Bill
The aim of the long-awaited draft Victims Bill is to improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system and strengthen their rights. Despite its well-evidenced potential to increase victims’ satisfaction and wellbeing, there is no mention of RJ in the Bill.
The CJA, the RJC and our members have been clear that this is a missed opportunity to provide better justice for victims, improve their experience of the criminal justice system and increase the national RJ provision.
Although the government’s intention is for the Victims Bill to strengthen victims’ rights, the draft Bill does not place the full Victims’ Code in primary legislation. It only enshrines four vaguely worded overarching principles, which are too broad and unclear, and do not get victims any closer to a set of legal rights than is already set out in the Code. We have called for the government to enshrine the full Code in legislation, so that the existing right to receive information about RJ becomes statutory.
In addition, the CJA and the RJC have called for victims to have a legislative right to access restorative justice services. The Justice Select Committee recently agreed, and recommended this right be included in the Bill.
Our second ask is that the Bill sets out that the government is to regularly produce a national action plan, which would promote access to, awareness of and capacity for RJ. The government used to produce RJ action plans but the last plan lapsed in 2018 and hasn’t been renewed.
The CJA and the RJC will continue to work together, with our members, parliamentarians and policy makers, to improve the national picture of RJ.
Jim Shannon, Chief Executive, RJC and Hannah Pittaway, Policy Manager, CJA.
Follow the links below for more information on CJA and RJC’s work on improving the national picture of RJ: