‘(2A) In sections 177(1) and 190(1) (requirements that may be imposed as part of a community order or suspended sentence order) after paragraph (j) insert—
“(ja) a restorative justice requirement (as defined by section 212A),”.’.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
‘(c) restorative justice activities.’.
Amendment 61, in clause 15, page 13, line 23, at end insert—
‘(7A) In this section “restorative justice activity” means an activity—
(a) where the participants consist of, or include, the offender and one or more of the victims’
(b) which aims to maximise the offender’s awareness of the impact of the offending concerned on the victims; and
(c) which gives an opportunity to a victim or victims to talk about, or by other means express experience of, the offending and its impact.’.
Amendment 62, in clause 15, page 13, line 31, at end insert—
‘(3A) After section 212 insert—
“212A Restorative justice requirement
(1) In this Part “restorative justice requirement”, in relation to a relevant order, means a requirement to participate in an activity—
(a) where the participants consist of, or include, the offender and one or more of the victims;
(b) which aims to maximise the offender’s awareness of the impact of the offending concerned on the victims; and
(c) which gives an opportunity to a victim or victims to talk about, or by other means express experience of, the offending and its impact.
(2) Imposition of a restorative justice requirement requires, in addition to the offender’s consent, the consent of every other person who would be a participant in the activity concerned.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), a responsible officer does not count as a proposed participant.
(4) In this section “victim” means a victim of, or other person affected by, the offending concerned.”.’.
This has become a bit of a tradition in justice Bills. I think this is the third Bill in a row where we have tried to do this. The Government favour restorative justice and want to see more good quality restorative justice taking place, and we try to nudge them a little further. These are probing amendments: we want to find out what the Minister has in mind about the future use of restorative justice, and about some of the benefits which we feel could be gained from its wider use. We are constantly learning how to use restorative justice more appropriately, and how more victims of crime can benefit from it.
As I say, these are probing amendments which address the issue of restorative justice provision. Amendments 59 and 62 would create a specific restorative justice requirement that could be imposed as part of a community sentence or suspended sentence order. Amendments 60 and 61 would specify that restorative justice activities could be prescribed as part of a rehabilitation activity requirement, alongside accredited programmes and broader reparative activity.
There is welcome cross-party agreement on the merits of restorative justice as part of the rehabilitation agenda. Of particular importance is the high approval rating of restorative justice among the victims who have experienced it, which is getting higher because practitioners are becoming more expert. They are constantly increasing the creative ways in which they are able to engage both perpetrators and victims in the process. It gives victims the opportunity to express the effect on them of an offence, and asks the offender to face up to their victim and hear the effects of their crime.
Once again, I pay particular tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East, who has worked tirelessly to try to widen and improve the offer of restorative justice to victims around the country. I have spoken in many debates in which he has also spoken on this particular issue, and I would say that he is an expert on restorative justice. We want to know what the Government have in mind and whether they will go any further, perhaps not by including this amendment on the face of the Bill but as the provision of community sentences changes and develops over time.
In the Crime and Courts Act 2013 the Government include welcome provisions to allow time to be built into the justice process for pre-sentence restorative justice activities. They intend these activities to be available as part of the rehabilitation activity requirement, under the broader umbrella of reparative activities. These amendments were originally tabled in the other place, and aim to open up the debate about whether more could or should be done to provide for and encourage the use of restorative justice wherever it is appropriate.
As the Government are updating the options available to a court as part of a community or suspended sentence order, the real question is whether it would be beneficial to put restorative justice activities on the face of the 2003 Act, or to encourage higher usage or allow the courts to mandate restorative justice as a requirement in its own right. We re-tabled the amendments to allow the Minister to update the Committee on the Government’s plans to encourage the use and availability of restorative justice, and again to ask about the Government’s thoughts on whether it might be beneficial to update the Criminal Justice Act to include a specific mention of restorative justice activity. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
I feel I ought to say something, given what my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington has just said, although I caution her about the limits of my knowledge and understanding of this. I commend her for once again taking an opportunity with a major piece of legislation to bring the Committee’s attention to the importance of restorative justice. It is a fair challenge to the Minister. A Bill about sentencing offenders should not go through without enhancing the cause of restorative justice. I know that we are pushing at an open door with this Minister, who understands restorative justice and the important role that it can play. I commend him and his colleague, the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), for responding in the Crime and Courts Bill in the way that they did, to make sure that where the opportunity arises where sentence can be deferred, there will be statutory guidance about how restorative justice will be operated. This is very important to maintain the standards.
Now is probably not the time to rehearse all the arguments about restorative justice, but it is again important to underline that its real benefit is for the victims of crime as much as for anybody else. It is they who can get an explanation and an apology, as well as the offender having to face up to the consequences of their actions. This is potentially a real win for the victims of crime, as well as a help in trying to rehabilitate the offender. In that sense, it has something for everybody.
We know that where restorative justice has been used, there are very high levels of victim satisfaction, which is encouraging. We also see a reduction in reoffending rates for those who are given restorative justice. Because all this has to be clearly voluntary, it shows that where the offender has an interest in this, real, substantial change can take place. In the Crime and Courts Act 2013, we in Parliament managed to provide restorative justice in a credible and proper way at a crucial time in the sentencing process. We know that this and earlier Governments have done much to try to enhance the cause of restorative justice at an earlier stage, as well as using it in prison.
Given that we are looking at the supervision of those who have had short prison sentences, it seems entirely fitting that where it is appropriate, those who supervise post-release—even for short sentences—should utilise restorative justice at that point as well, if the opportunity arises. I hope that the Minister will have some good news for us. He may be able to update us on progress since the Crime and Courts Act 2013 about how that particular provision is being taken forward. I hope that he will use this opportunity once again to send out a clear message that restorative justice is not an add-on, but should be at the heart of the criminal justice process.
Briefly, I support what the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Lady said. The Justice Committee visited Northern Ireland some months ago and—as the right hon. Gentleman will know from his ministerial experience over there—it is a core function within the Northern Ireland youth justice system that in virtually every youth justice case there has to be consideration of restorative justice. It is a resounding success, not simply for the offender in terms of rehabilitation but, crucially, for the victim as well. I echo everything that the right hon. Gentleman said. Because we are dealing with a Bill about sentencing, it would be remiss in the extreme if we did not have something sensible to say about the growth, hopefully, of restorative justice.
I am one of those who believes that of course it will not work for everyone, but it will work for very many people. It will have beneficial effects for the public in terms of rehabilitation, but also, crucially, it will have good effects for victims as well. I am sure that because the Minister is fully aware of this he will address the Committee on these points when he concludes his remarks.
I am happy to join the consensus on this matter. I think I agree with everything that has been said. As the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East said, I am an enthusiast for restorative justice. It has an important part to play in parallel with the normal sentencing processes and primarily, as the right hon. Gentleman says, to support the interests of victims in the criminal justice process. For that reason, I am keen to see restorative justice develop. As he knows, we have not only plugged a legislative gap, as he describes, but, to a large degree, put our money where our mouth is by providing funding for restorative justice. I agree entirely with the sentiments that have been expressed. I agree, too, that the evidence for the effectiveness of restorative justice is persuasive.
Taken together, as the hon. Member for Darlington explained, the amendments would make it explicit that activities in which offenders are required to participate as part of the new rehabilitation activity requirement under a community order or suspended sentence order can include restorative justice activities. Again, I assure the Committee that that is absolutely the Government’s intention and that restorative justice activities can be delivered under the new rehabilitation activity requirement. Given the good evidence for the impact that restorative justice can have on reoffending, as the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East rightly said, I am sure that many providers will want to use restorative processes in appropriate cases. We certainly would not want to stand in the way of that, and clause 15 is certainly not intended to prevent it. I can, however, see the points raised by the hon. Member for Darlington and her colleagues, and I will consider further whether including something more obviously in the Bill would assist in that regard. If we conclude that it would, I will do so. On that basis, I hope she will not press amendments 60 and 61 to a Division.
Amendments 59 and 62, taken together, would create a new stand-alone restorative justice requirement that could be imposed as part of a community order or suspended sentence order. The Committee will know that courts can, and do, already order restorative justice activities as part of a community order or suspended sentence order. That is currently done through the activity requirement, which provides for activities that include a reparative purpose. Although clause 15 replaces the existing activity requirement, as I have already explained, it will still allow responsible officers to instruct offenders to participate in restorative justice activities. Providing separately for a restorative justice requirement that would be for the court to impose and would be focused entirely on restorative justice might lead to problems if a victim agrees to participate when the sentence is imposed on the defendant but subsequently withdraws their consent. By contrast, providing those supervising offenders with the discretion to decide whether restorative justice activities might be appropriate allows a more flexible approach. It means that, if the offender or the victim withdraws their consent, the requirement is not rendered useless and can be retargeted at other rehabilitative activities. Providing discretion also means that pressure is not put on victims to consent or to maintain that consent for the duration of the requirement.
I reiterate that the Government are fully committed to encouraging the greater use of restorative justice and to ensuring that it is available at every stage of the criminal justice process. Although I see the wider intention behind the amendments, I hope that, given what I have said and the reassurances that I have been able to offer, the hon. Lady will withdraw her amendment.
I think we got a bit more out of that than we thought we would. It is always worth a try, is it not? I am very happy to withdraw my amendment, and I look forward to the Minister coming back to us with something else on Report. I am grateful for his positive words on restorative justice, and we look forward to hearing more from him.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.