Bristol Crown Court has started a pathfinder project looking at pre-sentence restorative justice led by Chantelle Smith of Victim Support. This project is due to commence in March 2014 and will provide victims and offenders the opportunity to undertake Restorative Justice (RJ) interventions prior to sentencing. The Pathfinder has the support of HHJ Ford and it has been agreed that adjournments of six weeks may be requested in order to facilitate RJ.
Definition of Restorative Justice (RJ)
Restorative processes bring those harmed by crime, and those responsible for the harm, into communication, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward.
RJ offers victims an opportunity to be heard and to have a say in the resolution of offences, including agreeing restorative or reparative activity for the offender. It can provide a means of closure and enable the victim to move on.
RJ also provides an opportunity for offenders to face the consequences of their actions, recognise the impact that it has had upon others and where possible make amends. In this way, RJ has the potential to help rehabilitate offenders and enable them to stop offending. It has the potential to motivate them to change and become responsible, law-abiding and productive members of society.
Government Policy on RJ
Government has made it clear that:
· It wants to support the creation of a service that is demand led by crime victims, that is focussed on the needs of victims, and is available to victims at the stage of the criminal justice system which is right for them;
· It wants to see safe and high quality restorative justice services delivered by organisations and practitioners accredited in line with standards established by the Restorative Justice Council; and that
· Restorative justice is seen as complementary to the criminal justice system and not as an alternative. In other words offenders must face the punitive consequences of their offending behaviour in the normal way, regardless of any RJ intervention.
RJ can take place at all stages of the criminal justice system including out-of-court, pre-sentence and post-sentence. It is important that there is the opportunity for a RJ activity to take place at the right stage of the criminal justice system for all the participants involved, particularly victims. A RJ activity at the pre-sentence stage is an example of one of the earlier opportunities, and can happen either during an adjournment between plea and sentence or as part of a deferred sentence.
Attached to this note is some guidance from HMCTS about the various pre-sentence RJ pathways and notification protocols.
The aims of pre-sentence RJ are:
· To provide victims with the opportunity to take part in a RJ activity at an early stage of the criminal justice system;
· To provide victims greater direct involvement in the criminal justice process, give victims a voice and increase victim satisfaction;
· Reduce re-offending.
A pre-sentence RJ activity can provide victims with the opportunity to get answers to questions, get a greater understanding of the crime and the offender and, where possible, receive some resolution or closure to the incident and move on.
For offenders it can provide the opportunity to explain their actions and understand the implications of their actions and, where possible and acceptable to the victim, make some amends.
The Pre-sentence RJ Pathfinder Programme
Restorative Solutions, a not-for-profit community interest company with substantial experience in designing and rolling out RJ programmes, has gained funding from both a private family trust and the Ministry of Justice to develop a Pathfinder programme for pre-sentence RJ based at 10 Crown Courts across the country. Restorative Solutions have invited Victim Support to partner with them in this programme, and have established a national Executive Group to steer the programme with representatives from the Ministry of Justice, HMCTS, NOMS, the Restorative Justice Council and the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, and have consulted with the Senior Presiding Judge and the CPS.
Each of the 10 Pathfinder sites (Cardiff, Bristol, Truro, Wood Green, Croydon, Manchester, Preston, Lincoln and two tbc) will be managed by a local project manager who will liaise closely with all local CJS agencies and partners to develop appropriate processes and procedures, and who will manage a team of ten local volunteer facilitators recruited and trained to undertake the restorative justice interventions with victims and offenders.
Key features of the Pathfinder programme:
· Each Pathfinder will run for 12 months, and will be evaluated throughout – what is being assessed is proof of concept of the model, not the effectiveness of RJ per se, which is already well established;
· Each Pathfinder will seek 100 “referrals” for RJ interventions during the 12 months – that is, 100 in scope offences with in scope victims and in scope offenders;
· In scope offences are serious (by which we mean serious enough to be sentenced in the Crown Court) acquisitive and violent crime, excluding homicide, crimes of a sexual nature, and domestic violence or abuse;
· In scope victims are those who state that they would like an opportunity for a restorative justice intervention at this early, pre -sentence stage;
· In scope offenders are adults who plead guilty;
· RJ interventions will take place, if all parties consent, during a 6 week adjournment between the guilty plea at the Crown Court, and sentencing;
· A report about the RJ intervention, any outcomes agreed between the victim and offender, and the views of the victim about the intervention and the offender, will be provided to the court alongside the PSR (if one has been requested);
· The offender’s participation in a RJ activity will not automatically affect the sentence that he/she receives. It will remain a matter for the sentencing court to decide what weight to give to the offender’s participation in RJ when sentencing.
For further information about this project, please contact:
Chantelle Smith, Pre-Sentence Restorative Justice Project Manager
Bristol Crown Court