Amendment 103

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Report (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:47 pm on 12th January 2022.

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Baroness Meacher:

Moved by Baroness Meacher

103: After Clause 172, insert the following new Clause—“Restorative justiceThe Secretary of State must, every five years— (a) prepare an action plan on restorative justice for the purpose of improving access, awareness and capacity of restorative justice within the criminal justice system,(b) publish a copy of the action plan, and(c) publish a report on progress in implementing the previous action plan.”

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, Amendment 103 seeks to ensure that the regular action plans on restorative justice provided by the Ministry of Justice until 2008 be restored and also that they should be published and a report produced on progress on the previous action plan as well. It is a more modest amendment than the one I moved in Committee. At that point, we wanted the Government to produce action plans every three years; we are now talking about every five years, which at least reduces the pressure on the department. The amendment would be an enormous improvement on the complete absence of national leadership on this issue since 2018.

But, first, what is restorative justice? It is an interpersonal approach that enables people who have been a victim of criminal or other harmful behaviour to meet the perpetrator, generally face to face, and others closely involved in the case to ask questions of that perpetrator and express how the incident affected them personally. It also enables perpetrators to express what was going on for them when they committed their crime or whatever they did and also to listen and understand the personal impact of that action, so that something that was a very impersonal action turns into something very personal. That is in fact a very important point.

Restorative justice is very much a voluntary process. No one is forced into it—both the victim and the perpetrator have to want to go through it. It can also go alongside other criminal justice activities or procedures. It is highly cost effective; for every pound spent on it, £8 are saved for the criminal justice system. That seems a very good reason for the Minister to take this amendment very seriously, as I hope he will, albeit I will not press it to a vote.

Why do we need the amendment included in this legislation? Every PCC area in England and Wales has a local restorative justice provider which takes referrals for restorative justice. Youth offending teams have a member of staff who leads on it. The victims’ code of practice from 2020 entitles every victim of crime to be informed about restorative justice and have access to it. However, this is simply not happening. The Office for National Statistics data showed, I think in 2020, that only 5% of victims are aware of being told anything about restorative justice at all. I hope the Minister will agree that that really is not satisfactory when these victims have a right to that information.

This problem seems to be driven by a lack of strategic direction from the centre. That is the whole point of this amendment. Also, the Ministry of Justice ceased to provide any funding to PCCs to support these important services. Before introducing the PCSC Bill, the Government published a White Paper highlighting the importance of restorative justice:

“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.”

That is absolutely right. We know that reoffending drops by 14% if people have been involved in restorative justice. That is where the £8 saving for every £1 spent comes from. The White Paper went on to refer to opportunities to increase the use of restorative justice by using deferred sentencing and setting restorative conditions as part of out-of-court disposals.

Despite all this, restorative justice has been absent from the Bill. Can the Minister explain why it was promoted in the White Paper but does not feature in the Bill? I hope he will want to put this right. The amendment is relatively minor in its impact on the Ministry of Justice, yet it could have really far-reaching impacts, both for victims and for perpetrators. I hope the Minister will look favourably on Amendment 103.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, I made a very brief reference to restorative justice in one of our debates on Monday. I am glad to have an opportunity to comment briefly on the amendment just moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I agree with her wholeheartedly. We should always do everything we can to keep people out of prison; to repeat myself from Monday, although sending people to prison is the punishment and the aim is rehabilitation, it does not always work like that. I know that from experience in my former constituency, which had a very large prison—Featherstone—and a young offender institution at Brinsford just a mile or so away. I believe a lot of the young people in Brinsford would have benefited enormously by not going to prison and would have benefited from restorative justice.

I became totally convinced in this view when I had the privilege to be the chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee for the last of my Parliaments in the other place, 2005 to 2010. I saw at first hand the effect of restorative justice in Northern Ireland, and a lot of young people who would perhaps have gone on to a long life of crime were rehabilitated and came to terms with their victims. As the noble Baroness said, there has to be agreement from both sides, as it were, but it was wholly beneficial in a vast number of cases.

Following the White Paper to which the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, referred, it seems very strange indeed that there is no provision or recognition in the fairly massive Bill before us. One of my criticisms of the Bill is that it is too long. It should be three Bills rather than one—but that is another story and we have touched on that in the past. But although the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said that she will not press this to a Division—I do not dissent from her on that—I hope nevertheless that my noble friend the Minister will be able to make some favourable and encouraging comments about the importance of restorative justice and its place in the criminal justice system.

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, I intervene to express my support for this modest but worthwhile amendment and, like my noble friend Lord Cormack, to urge my noble friend the Minister to give a sympathetic response when he winds up in a moment or two.

I have had an interest in RJ—restorative justice—for a number of years. In particular, I have followed the work of Why Me?, which has briefed us on the debate this afternoon. My noble friend the Minister will be aware of my concern, which I know is shared across the House, about the levels of reoffending, which seem a reproach to us all: a moral reproach, a societal reproach, a financial reproach—you name it. This high rate of reoffending is not a new problem; it has bedevilled our society and our prison system for many years.

It is said that the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That seems to be one of the positions we have got to with regard to trying new ideas which may—maybe at the margin—help cut the underlying reoffending rate. I am sure we need to try a new approach, or new approaches. To use the cricketing analogy, if I may, in light of the results of the test match in Australia, we need to change the bowling—

A noble Lord:

It is the batting.

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Well, shall we change them both? I think changing the batting is a fair comment.

My noble friend and I have had one go round on reoffending over the bunching of Friday prisoners, and we now have a situation where three-sevenths of all prisoners released come out on a Friday, with all the problems of the weekend. We discussed this at some length. It was a cost-free option being put forward from across the House, but my noble friend could not accept it—though he has offered us, and has committed to, a consultation process as part of the prisons White Paper. But we are therefore in a holding pattern now for two or three years, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, because it will be two or three years before we can find a place in a Bill for that measure.

With Amendment 103 on RJ, we have a chance to change the batting and try a different approach. I absolutely accept and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that it is not a silver bullet. It is not, by any manner of means, cost-free, because it requires very careful handling by trained staff and, as she said, it works only where both parties, particularly the perpetrator, have a moral commitment to making it work. Obviously, there are also touchy-feely aspects, which can be ridiculed in the media.

However, as the noble Baroness said, where it works, its results are remarkable, and remarkable in one unique sense. The victim can begin to understand how they found themselves in this difficult position when they see how the life chances of the perpetrator were so badly damaged. One of the problems in crime is that the victim finds that their life is ruined, but this can enable them to mend their life because they see that the perpetrator has had poor life chances and is now wishing to make amends.

This is a modest amendment, merely preparing, as the noble Baroness said, an action plan with plans to follow it up. My noble friend has produced his Prisons Strategy, but a paper with “strategy” in the title always worries me because it looks like an overarching result—a sort of deus ex machina which will put the whole problem to bed. In my experience of the human condition, it very rarely results in that. Particularly with prisons and reoffending, results are likely to come about inch by inch, with hard yards of trying things, some which fail and some which succeed, and building on success. I would like us to do something different—something incremental. Let us stop doing the same thing over and over again; we are really not that stupid.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 4:00 pm, 12th January 2022

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Hodgson, and to agree with what they say. I support this amendment very strongly and I regret that we will not vote on it, because this is so important for justice. At the moment, justice just means taking something away from everyone instead of trying to add things back, both to all the people involved but also to society. Crime has to be seen partly as the result of a broken society; this is what it indicates. It cannot only be addressed—and it certainly cannot be fixed—by policing and punishment. There has to be something more that adds back and enriches us.

Effective restorative justice deals constructively with both the victim and the offender. The primary aim has to be to restore and improve the position of the victim and the community by the offender making amends. It recognises that a person convicted of a crime has the ability to improve the community. We do not at the moment employ restorative justice; we focus instead on punishing the offender, which means more prisons, more stress and more degradation in our society. Therefore, I regret that we will not vote on this, because it is a very important move.

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench

My Lords, I rise to strongly support this amendment, which was so ably introduced by my noble friend Lady Meacher, particularly if it is matched by a strong commitment to restorative justice among all sections of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, particularly prison governors. I have witnessed an unfortunate case in which a governor admitted to me that none of the recommendations of the very good police officer who was chairing the conference could be provided by the prison concerned, to the detriment of the whole process.

Photo of Lord Sentamu Lord Sentamu Crossbench

My Lords, I too support this amendment. It asks the Secretary of State to prepare an action plan and to show how it is being implemented or otherwise, so it is not asking that which is beyond common sense.

I take your Lordships back to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In front of him is a police officer who was responsible for setting alight a young man. The young man dies and the mother comes, and all that is left is just ash—the body is gone. Desmond Tutu asks, not the person who committed the crime but the mother: “What do you want to say to him?” The mother says, “I lost my son. In the light of what you have been saying to us about the need to address the maladies that have happened and to reconcile people, I say this. I have a broken heart; I lost my son. I want to take this police officer to the place where my son was burnt alive. When we have gone there and have actually touched the earth, I will adopt him as my son, because I no longer have a son.” Desmond Tutu broke down in tears. They go to the place where this had happened, and the mother takes in that police officer as her own son. That is the effect of restorative justice. It never asks the question: “Who has done this? What punishment do they deserve?” It asks the question: “Now that this rather unhappy fact has happened, what are we going to do about it?”

For nearly 20 years I have been lecturing all over the world on restorative justice. In this country, at an international conference gathered by the Bar Council, we had a great debate and discussion; but unfortunately, although we talk about restorative justice, in the light of our criminal justice system we really do not give a major role to what Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission did. Had it not been for restorative justice, a lot of people would have been revenging for what had happened. They were very angry and wanted to lock people away and throw away the key, but because of that mission and Desmond Tutu believing that, without forgiveness, there can be no peace—and that forgiveness is a consequence of restoration; it does not come out of nowhere—South Africa, where many people committed terrible, awful crimes, continued to live in peace.

I know that we will not be voting on this amendment, but somewhere, we must find words that express what the noble Baroness has put before us, because if there is no restoration of the relationships that have been fractured by a crime, you just think that that is it. After a big victory in a battle, George Washington started befriending the people fighting on the other side. Those on his side said to him, “Why do you want them to be your friends?” He said, “Well, if they don’t become my friends, they will still be protesting. The only way to overcome an enemy is to make them your friend; then, they stop protesting.”

There are so many people in our country for whom crimes have caused untold difficulty—take the Stephen Lawrence murder. It would have been good if some kind of restorative justice had happened. Neville Lawrence says, “Those five young men did a terrible thing to my son, but I have now realised that if I continue to be angry, it is me who is being destroyed.” Unfortunately, he is not being given the opportunity to go through the restorative justice process. I support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Laming Lord Laming Chair, Accommodation Steering Group Committee

My Lords, perhaps I may make three quick points in support of this important amendment. First, we all accept that short sentences are extremely expensive to manage and expensive to our society, and we ought to do our best to provide alternatives to them. They are also expensive in other ways because they introduce often naive offenders to much more serious crime. Secondly, short sentences are extremely disruptive to the individual concerned. They often lose whatever jobs they have and a whole range of things that are important in their life. Thirdly, restorative justice is a learning experience. Would that there were other parts of the criminal justice system that I could say with confidence were a learning experience.

Restorative justice is the opportunity for an offender to reflect carefully on what has happened as a result of their behaviour and on why it is important that they learn from that experience and change their way of life. This is an important amendment that I hope the Government will take seriously.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I remind the House that at one stage in my police career I was the lead for the Metropolitan Police on restorative justice, working with Professor Larry Sherman. The evidence from that experience and other academic studies shows that the benefits to victims, in terms of allaying fear and victim satisfaction, and to perpetrators, in terms of engagement with the criminal justice process, and by being confronted, as the noble Lord, Lord Laming, has just said, by their offending behaviour, and in terms of reducing recidivism, are unequivocal.

The only objection to the amendment would be political, because restorative justice is wrongly perceived by those who do not understand the process as going soft on offenders; it is the opposite. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Laming, about short sentences. However, on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, it does not necessarily have to be an alternative to prison in very serious cases. The important outcomes are victim satisfaction and the offender having to confront their offending behaviour.

The Minister may argue that people get a long time in prison in which to reflect on their wrongdoing. However, a colleague of mine did some research on street robbery and went to a young offenders’ institution to interview those who had been convicted and incarcerated for that offence. Many of those he spoke to did not understand why they were in the young offenders’ institution. The process was so detached from them—they just sat at the back of the court while other people spoke and dealt with the case, without their involvement at all. They genuinely did not understand why they were in prison. That is why restorative justice is important.

The question is: are the Government going to be led by the evidence and support this amendment, or are they going to object to it, based on misconceptions?

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. It is modest and worth while, and is another step down the road.

I remember that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, introduced the phrase restorative justice into the statute book. I cannot remember which piece of legislation it was but at that point he spoke perceptively when he said that it was going to be a long road to get restorative justice embedded within the criminal justice system, whether in terms of probation, YOTs or prison. He was right and the necessity for the amendment proves that because the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, gave a number of examples, including where the funding or initiatives have stalled and the momentum with restorative justice has been lost. From memory, the initial introduction of restorative justice was through a separate funding stream for YOTs to use these programmes. So I very much support the amendment. It needs constant activity and oversight by a Minister to get the restorative justice programmes embedded in the system as a whole.

One reason why what I am saying is perhaps more relevant than what some noble Lords have said is that I have some scepticism on the issue. I am happy to have a cup of tea with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, to express my scepticism. While I support the amendment, it requires a long-term programme, and it is for the Government to make sure that that programme is implemented.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 4:15 pm, 12th January 2022

My Lords, I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is able to be with us this afternoon—and in good health, I hope—having been unavoidably detained during the debate in Committee. It is good to have been able to hear from her directly on an issue that is of evident interest to a number of Members of your Lordships’ House. I have listened carefully to the points made by everyone, including the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Laming, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sentamu, my Front Bench colleagues and others to whom I will come.

I hear and feel the mood of the House and the noble Lords who spoke in support of the amendment. I also heard my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts ask for some favourable and encouraging comments from me. The truth is that I do not really need any persuading on the importance and use of restorative justice. I agree that, in the right circumstances, it can certainly have far-reaching benefits.

Indeed, since we discussed this in Committee, I have spoken at the Council of Europe Justice Ministers meeting, which was specifically about restorative justice. On the upside, the meeting was held in Venice; on the downside, I had to appear virtually. Despite that, I was pleased to welcome the declaration on restorative justice made by that meeting. I talked about our history in the UK of exploring and embedding the appropriate use of restorative justice across the criminal justice system. The Venice declaration calls for the sharing of knowledge, best practice and scientific research on restorative justice. We are committed to playing our full part in this.

Turning to the amendment, it seems to be intended to address a concern that the Bill does not include provision for restorative justice by requiring the Secretary of State to publish an action plan every five years. As I explained in Committee, restorative justice is not just communication between victim and perpetrator. We consider that the concept of restorative justice extends to other parts of the Bill in the sense that we now have a new system for out-of-court disposals because the conditions attached to those disposals again provide an opportunity for intervention and support for offenders and appropriate input from the victim of the crime.

The new statutory two-tier framework replaces the current adult out-of-court disposal options. There must be conditions attached to both of the new proposed cautions, fulfilling one of three objectives: rehabilitation, reparation or punishment. These provide an opportunity for intervention and support for offenders. A restorative justice referral could also be an appropriate condition of a caution where the victim and offender agree to this.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Cormack that we should divert people from prison where we can; indeed, that is part of the Sentencing Code. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that prison and restorative justice are not necessarily—I emphasise “necessarily”—alternatives. I remind the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that, so far as the sentencing White Paper is concerned, the Bill provides for the greater use of deferred sentencing; this also provides opportunities for restorative justice in the deferred sentencing process.

Over and above that, we are concerned that victims know about restorative justice. Under the victims’ code, they now have the right to be provided with information about restorative justice and how to access restorative justice services in their local area. We continue to provide funding to PCCs to provide support services for victims of crime, which include restorative justice as well.

On 9 December, we launched a consultation, “Delivering Justice for Victims”, the first step towards what we hope will be a landmark victims’ law—a Bill which will build on the foundations of the victims’ code to substantially improve the victim’s experience of the criminal justice system. We propose to place the key principles of the code in primary legislation and are considering the roles and duties of PCCs in relation to victims. However, to repeat a point that I made in Committee—I think that it was also the point that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, was reaching for—restorative justice is not always appropriate. For some more serious types of offending, it may not be appropriate. The welfare of the victim must always be paramount. I am thinking of some sexual violence and rape cases. We should not have an exhaustive list—even for those cases it is a case-by-case basis—but there will be cases where restorative justice would be unfair on the victim. The victim must always consent but should never feel forced into a process that they are not 100% comfortable with.

The probation service is also working on a new framework for restorative justice, to ensure a more consistent approach, focusing on the people for whom it will make the biggest difference. Having said that, the broad policy aim is that all victims can, if they wish, take part in restorative justice at a time that is right for them. Again, restorative justice does not have to be immediately at the sentencing date. It could be months or even years in the future. It is not a one-time-only option.

It remains the case that we are working very hard in this area. We share the aims and ambitions of the noble Baroness. The evidence base for restorative justice exists. Services are available. Victims should and will be made aware more clearly of their availability. However, requiring rolling action plans will simply create an unnecessary and overly bureaucratic burden. It will cost a lot more without any concrete benefit.

I support restorative justice in principle. I hope that is crystal clear. I cannot promise my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts that we will see restorative justice, or any other form of justice tempered with mercy, from the Australian cricket team, but that lies well outside my capabilities. So far as the amendment is concerned, with a strong endorsement of the principles of restorative justice, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw it.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, the Minister seemed to suggest that, in any form of restorative justice, a victim might be compelled or forced to engage in the process. I think that is what he said. Can he reassure me that it was not?

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I was saying absolutely the opposite and, if it came out wrong, it came out wrong. The whole point of restorative justice is that the offender and the victim have to consent. That is the point which I was making about crimes of sexual violence. The victim there should not feel under any compulsion or pressure to engage in restorative justice if they do not want to. Victim choice and free-will participation is at the heart of restorative justice. I hope that I have made that very clear.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the warm and encouraging words that we were asking for. Unfortunately, they do not give us any reassurance that there will be a restoration of some sort of national leadership on this issue. As I explained in my brief comments, this is what is missing and why restorative justice is languishing. He said that victims should have access to restorative justice, which is very difficult when only 5% of them are aware of being told about it. There is a major issue of lack of information, lack of understanding and lack of national leadership. This was a small suggestion to put these things right and I very much regret that the Government will not take it on. Having said that, of course I will withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 103 withdrawn.