RESTORATIVE justice, with its integral element of forgiveness,
is naturally popular within the Churches. The introduction of
community resolution in 2008, and the establishment of the
Restorative Justice Council in 2010, were significant developments.
The increased use of community resolutions suggests that they are
now seen by police forces and victims as a credible alternative to
the traditional criminal-justice system. They enable victims to be
consulted in the treatment of the offender, who is persuaded to
apologise and, perhaps, pay compensation. In return, he or she
escapes having a criminal record, and, the theory goes, is less
likely to reoffend.
Two examples are given of the sorts of crime where a community
resolution is fitting: two elderly Sikhs who threatened each other
with garden implements, and two 11-year-old boys who shoplifted
sweets. It was disturbing this week, therefore, when the Labour
Party, after a Freedom of Information request, reported that, in
2012, more than 33,000 cases of violence against the person were
resolved this way, an increase of more than 20 per cent on 2011.
The inference drawn by the Labour Party is that the police forces,
tempted by an option that re- quires far less paperwork and staff
time, have been persuading victims to choose restorative justice in
inappropriate cases. There is a parallel with the use of the police
caution. There were about 200,000 last year, fewer than previously,
but applied in a number of serious cases, including rape, sexual
assault, and burglary. A Ministry of Justice review is under
The Restorative Justice Council has previously said that
decisions about applying restorative justice should be taken out of
the hands of the police and given to "a trained restorative-justice
facilitator working to national standards". It is particularly
concerned about domestic violence, suggesting that restorative
justice should be introduced only in certain circumstances, such as
when the partners are no longer living together, and when the risk
of harm can be managed "by senior restorative-justice practitioners
who have had specialist domestic-violence training". The council's
website lists fewer than 40 accredited practitioners (although many
more associates). Community resolutions were used in 2488
domestic-violence cases last year. It must be deduced that few of
these couples had the benefit of expert help.
Restorative justice has the potential to change thinking about
crime and punishment in this country, but it rests on a knife edge.
It will take only a handful of high-profile failures to discredit
the whole system. At its heart, it invites the victim to take the
risk of forgiving the perpetrator. It would be irresponsible not to
manage this risk with the utmost care.