Brian Swan, Partner at Stokoe Partnership Solicitors, calls for the government to boost funding for restorative justice in The Times Law Brief.

Brian’s article has been published in The Times Law Brief, 26th September 2016. Read the article here.

Government must boost funding for restorative justice

It has long been argued that restorative justice helps to deter young offenders, to reduce reoffending rates and to heal the wounds resulting from criminal behaviour.

The cross-party House of Commons justice select committee recently confirmed that victims of crime in England and Wales should have the legal right to restorative justice, but only when the criminal justice system is sufficiently resourced.

Restorative justice enables victims to meet offenders to explain the impact of their crimes. Meetings happen in a controlled environment, supervised by a facilitator to ensure that the process is entirely safe.

This helps victims to recover and move on – and there is wide support for the process with 80 per cent of people saying they should have a legal right to meet offenders.

The committee’s findings are welcome. Our criminal justice system focuses too much on punishment and too little on rehabilitation. Encouraged by the work of the Restorative Justice Council, lawyers involved in the system have argued, vigorously and rightly, that punishment has little effect in reducing recidivism.

The committee’s report proposes that restorative justice should feature in the proposed victims’ law, but only once it is “demonstrated to parliament that the system has sufficient capacity” to deliver restorative justice services to every victim with exceptions for sexual offences, domestic abuse and hate crime.

Bob Neill, the Conservative committee chair, said: “While capacity issues mean that it is still too soon to introduce a legislative right to restorative justice for victims, we urge the government to work towards this goal. We heard extensive evidence of the tangible benefits to victims and the role of restorative justice in reducing reoffending, so it clearly benefits wider society as well.”

He added that: “The priority must be to ensure that victims of crime are properly informed. The Ministry of Justice should focus its resources on ensuring restorative justice is well understood by bodies within the criminal justice system who can then convey this information to victims.”

The ministry has said that it will consider the report carefully. But experience suggests that reports from parliamentary committees are too often warmly welcomed, only to be forgotten because their proposals involve spending more money. Without targeted funding and political will, good intentions come to nothing. This must not be the case with restorative justice.

As home secretary, Theresa May told the Police Federation conference last May: “Used appropriately, restorative justice can have real benefits for victims.” Now that she is prime minister, criminal lawyers and victims everywhere hope that her sentiments are reinforced by regulatory action – and by appropriate funding.

The government has already committed to provide £29 million for existing restorative justice projects in England and Wales. But for restorative justice to be given to every appropriate victim as a legal right, additional funding will be needed.

To avoid this report being kicked into the long grass, Mrs May and the chancellor, Philip Hammond, must allocate funding in this year’s autumn statement.