Of late, restorative justice has received an unprecedented level of interest throughout the UK and across the globe. In offering new solutions to crime prevention, restorative justice methods have been increasingly adopted by governments which are now enforcing new policies and legislations so as to combat high offending rates. Pic from Flickr, under Creative Comms licence, by Etolane
A recent example of adopting restorative justice methods can be found in the UK. The Coalition government has passed the Crime and Courts Act which has given grounds for “Deferring the passing of a sentence to allow for restorative justice”. Furthermore, this has been supported by an extra commitment of £29 million which is to be distributed to Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to support the implementation of restorative justice at the local level.
While these are bold and innovative steps, undoubtedly some issues remain unresolved. Most importantly, those who are the immediate beneficiaries of the restorative justice model i.e. victims, offenders and practitioners, have very little capacity to shape these processes – to express their views, needs and their expectations throughout its development.
In response IARS, an international think-tank, in partnership with other EU countries and 12 associates, has released the findings of its pioneering project, as funded by the European Commission: “Restorative Justice in Europe: Safeguarding Victims and Empowering Professionals” (RJE).
In bringing together the voices of victims, offenders, criminal justice and restorative justice professionals from the UK and five European countries, these results will seek to engender change across the EU policy domain. Decision makers, policy enforcers and practitioners will employ, adapt their practices and offer new and compelling answers to age old problems.
The uniqueness of this cutting edge study is that it reveals how victims feel towards restorative justice, highlighting their motivations for participating in the restorative justice process. According to the findings overall, victims felt positive about restorative justice and they would recommend it to others.
Participants requested meaningful and equal participation in the criminal justice system that restorative justice promises. Moreover, victims felt that their re-integration back into society was made easier by helping their offenders understand the harm they caused. Yet, where power structures have interfered, victims would either withdraw from the process or not participate.
Too much talk
Amidst ongoing debates on whether restorative justice can be used during delicate cases of domestic violence, hate crime and sexual offending, the study argues that there is no evidence as to why restorative justice cannot have value. In fact, most UK victims who participated in the research had experienced a complex crime – including sexual offending. However, what was stressed was that these cases should be handled only by experienced professionals. Rolling out restorative justice quickly and without adequate training will risk victims, offenders and the justice process.
While the UK is considered to be well advanced in its policies, laws and guidance on how restorative justice should be delivered, its implementation is thought to be weaker than other EU countries: “Too much talk and not enough doing”, one victim participant said.
The overall project aims to support countries to incorporate the EU Victims Directive into national legislation and develop a pan European user–led framework for the development of standards, training material, protocols and safeguards for restorative justice. Following fieldwork findings, the Restorative Justice Europe will now construct programmes and material that will be piloted in the UK and across Europe and will aim to increase the capacity of professionals to deliver services in line with the Victims Directive as well as victims knowledge around their rights.
Gabrielle Browne, a victim of sexual assault and a member of the RJE Expert Advisory Group said: “As a victim, I believe an increased uptake by victims relies strongly on the active implementation by practitioners, of Article 12 of the Victims Directive. If victims feel empowered by the process, they will be more likely to participate in it, to the benefit of the victim, the offender and the community. The greater the uptake, the increased potential for the rehabilitation of offenders and some repair of the harm suffered by victims”.