Our response to the White Paper: “A Smarter Approach to Sentencing”

Wednesday 24th February 2021

Restorative Justice

Restorative Solutions believes strongly that attention needs to be paid to what we believe are missed opportunities to make better use of restorative justice, which is a very well researched approach to helping both offenders and victims. In particular, we see a need to distinguish restorative justice from reparation or community resolution.

Restorative justice should, in our considered view, be so called only when taken seriously. Our key definition is that restorative justice is a structured meeting between an offender and perhaps a supporter, a victim and perhaps a supporter, and a trained and impartial facilitator. The meeting allows each party to explain their experience and to understand the other’s point of view. Acts of atonement or reparation do not produce the established benefits of well structured restorative justice.

“A Smarter Approach to Sentencing”

The theme of the White Paper should be “smarter”, but that word appears once only after the heading. “Tougher”, however, appears 18 times and provides a clear alternate theme. Restorative justice is mentioned 10 times, but not before page 52. There is also much discussion of victims’ experience in court and around sentencing, but little on reducing victims’ trauma and assisting their recovery. It is accepted that the latest Victims’ Code from the MoJ is explicit (at Right 3) about the full use of restorative justice, and the Code is mentioned at p.24.

Missed opportunity with Restorative Justice for offenders

There is a missed opportunity to look at restorative justice for offenders as early as page 8 (within “Our Vision for Reform”) where the White Paper says, “a successful period of probation supervision can challenge and motivate offenders to address the causes of their offending.” This is pre-eminently true of restorative justice, but the Paper does not offer it. At p.34 (para 88) the White Paper says, “For (these) prolific offenders we will continue to consider whether there are innovative ways in which we could tackle their persistent offending.” We believe restorative justice is such a way; although it is no longer innovative, it still seems different to many in the legal system, regrettably.

When dealing with offenders in the community, the White Paper says at pp. 37-38 (paras 97-98), “The evidence points to taking a different approach to this cohort, which helps to break the cycle of reoffending. If we can reduce reoffending, the benefits will be felt by society as a whole. Building on the lessons of the past, in this chapter we set out a new vision for community justice that combines robust punishment and management of risk with a greater focus on addressing rehab-ilitative needs. We will deliver this through a combination of legislative reforms and significant investment in improvements to the way probation supervises and rehabilitates offenders. (...) We are clear that we will not compromise our responsibility to victims of crime or the safety and protection of the wider public. We also understand the importance of providing victims with the support they need to cope and recover regardless of the sentence received by the offender. We will work carefully and closely with the judiciary to fully embed our new approach across the criminal justice system.” Again, we stress that restorative justice is ideally designed to achieve these aims. 

Restorative Justice is an important part of the Justice System

At p. 43 (para 123), there is another missed chance to embed restorative justice in the range of “robust and responsive” measures sought, and at p. 59 (in the summary), the White Paper seeks to see “offenders challenged and motivated to address the causes of their offending” – another opportunity, very clearly, for restorative justice. By p. 95 the White Paper is open to “inviting views on how reparation and restorative justice can be improved.” It is necessary to distinguish these two different approaches.

Finally, at p. 101 (paras 363-367), restorative justice is seriously mentioned. The White Paper says, “we believe restorative justice is an important part of the justice system and has significant benefits both for the victim and for the rehabilitation of offenders,” but it confuses full restorative justice with the declining reparation orders. The reader should concentrate on the last sentence of para 367, by “ensuring that restorative justice continues to be victim-led.”

Want to learn more about Restorative Justice?

These are the essential points of response to a White Paper which fails to fulfil its potential and, in so doing, risks missing sentencing reform opportunities and benefits for offenders and for victims and society.

For further information about Restorative Justice please contact Restorative Solutions' expert team.

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