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Police minister boost for restorative justice

22 February 2011

Restorative justice should be “embedded in and operating at every part of the criminal justice system”, police and criminal justice minister Nick Herbert has said in the clearest endorsement so far of the government’s support for this alternative mechanism.

Herbert denounced Labour’s “top-down culture” saying this approach had led to “the erosion of professional discretion” and had “disempowered the frontline in relation to the criminal justice system”.

Talking to the joint Association of Chief Police Officers and the Restorative Justice Council conference last week, the minister rejected claims that restorative justice was a “soft option” and insisted it should be “mainstreamed as a response to crime and antisocial behaviour”.

According to the minister, the current system had become “owned by people who are privileged within it, owned by the law, owned by the professionals in the system”.

Instead, he argued, criminal justice should be taken “out of the narrow confines of the courts and “put the notion of the responsibility of the offender back at the centre”.

Restorative justice had the potential to change the way criminal justice was delivered, but, to achieve this goal, it would have to pass a series of tests.

It would have to be “robust and effective in terms of victim satisfaction, it must deliver reductions of reoffending and contribute to the government’s key goal of breaking the cycle of crime and high rates of reoffending”, he said.

Restorative justice would also have to be “visible” and “transparent”.

Cost were also a key consideration in the project, as Herbert said restorative justice along with the criminal justice system as a whole should deliver value for money at a time when resources were at a premium.

“Value for money drives the whole system,” he said, before adding: “Restorative justice can contribute to that drive.”

Promising a suggestion that would be “perhaps challenging”, Herbert invited the audience to think about “transforming the criminal justice system into a service” and reclaiming justice for communities.

One prerequisite would be to “change the way in which we use our language about restorative justice” – though he did not elaborate specifically about how this could work.

One area where restorative justice appeared to have the greatest potential was local justice involving “neighbourhood resolution” and “encouraging local innovation”.

Still in its infancy the overall scheme could involve neighbourhood justice panels and pre-sentencing restorative conferences where offenders who agreed their guilt could have their admissions taken into account for sentencing purposes.

'Breaking the cycle', the consultation on effective punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders, closes on 4 March 2011.

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