Robert Buckland MP 2.53pm
Having worked for many years in the criminal justice system, prosecuting and defending in criminal cases, I am acutely aware that the trial process does not - and cannot - address the problems faced by victims of crime.
Since my election to Parliament in 2010, I have taken an increasing interest in restorative justice and how it can play a bigger role in the criminal justice system in the UK. Restorative justice can help turn lives around for the offenders and aid the healing process among victims of crime.
Restorative justice allows a victim of a crime and the offender to meet face-to-face, enabling both of them to play a part in finding a positive way forward. The practice, already being used across England and Wales in our schools, workplaces and in parts of the criminal justice system, can empower victims and communities to come to terms with their trauma and may also help to reduce crime by making offenders understand the impact of their actions.
In the immediate aftermath of the summer riots up and down the country last year, it was clear that far too many of those involved in the rioting and looting were young people.
In the debate held following the recall of Parliament, I encouraged the need for making those responsible come face to face up with the victims of their crimes and making them play their part in restoring the damage that they have done. I suggested this to be a good way to divert those young children from further involvement in the gang culture and crimes that we have seen.
I was very pleased to be part of an inspirational meeting held at the Pilgrim Centre in Swindon one Friday evening in November last year, organised by my local Quaker group.
Quakers are committed to working for peace and justice through nonviolent social change. Quakers seek to practice peace at all levels, whether being active in disarmament or promoting mediation among children.
It was an excellent evening and I was pleased to see that there are many local people in Swindon, in the Council, in schools, in church groups and the police who are committed to restorative justice. We all agreed that there were excellent examples of restorative justice methods being used in Swindon by the police and the Youth Offending Team, and that more work should be done to spread its use.
In the House of Commons, I asked Nick Herbert MP, Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, about the steps the Government is taking to increase the use of restorative justice. I took this opportunity to raise awareness of the effective use of restorative justice procedures in Swindon by both the youth offending team and the police, particularly in the sentencing process and as an alternative to prosecution.
The Government has specific plans to support the invaluable work being done locally. The Minister assured me of the Government’s commitment to delivering more restorative justice across the system. The Minister agreed with me about the value of the work in Swindon in not only providing enhanced victim satisfaction, as victims are otherwise too often an afterthought in the process, but also in reducing reoffending rates.
Last month, I met Lizzie Nelson from the Restorative Justice Council. The work of the Metropolitan Police and Greater Manchester Police was highlighted; they have been doing some useful restorative justice work in response to the riots.
Greater Manchester Police as a Force is very pro-active in the use of restorative justice. In November 2011 they resolved over 600 crimes using these methods. While the restorative justice work has been slower than anticipated and the Force have not been able to resolve as many cases as they would have liked given this method, there is tentative progress being made, with one offender having agreed to a conference and another using a ‘shuttle method’ with a second offender. This can only help both the victims and also the offenders face up to the severity of the crimes committed.
The Government is considering how they can increase capacity to enable local areas to provide more effective responses to crime and disorder. Funded by the Ministry of Justice and implemented by the Restorative Justice Council (RJC), the Government has also recently introduced a register that lists all qualified practitioners of restorative justice - a process where offenders meet their victims and hear about the pain they have caused.
The Government will also be piloting new Neighbourhood Justice Panels, where local residents, properly trained and with advice and support, will be able to bring victims and wrongdoers together to deal with local problems in a way that gives them a real say in the outcomes for their communities. I am delighted to say that Swindon will be one of the pilot areas.
The great thing about restorative justice is that victims are never forced to go through the restorative justice process. The wish to meet the offender has to be led by the victims themselves. Currently many victims of crime who want to meet and confront their offender have to fight very hard against entrenched practices in some of the agencies that purport to offer welfare. I am keen for Swindon to be used as a beacon for restorative justice practices and am pleased that the Swindon Youth Offending Team and the Neighbourhood Team are already well engaged in these practices.
I believe that momentum is starting to build around restorative justice issues. Between November 2011 and February 2012, there was media coverage of restorative justice issues that almost reached 40 million people. An ICM poll, commissioned by the Prison Reform Trust, showed that 88 per cent of the public felt that a restorative approach was an appropriate response to the UK riots. Books such as Belinda Hopkins’ The Restorative Classroom show how thinking on restorative practice in schools can make a difference.
In conclusion, it is about all of us, you and me, and how as a society we work together to tackle the problems and conflicts that we face. Let’s make this vision more of a reality in 2012.
Robert Buckland was elected MP for South Swindon in May 2010.
Follow him on Twitter @RobertBuckland