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Response to the “Delivering justice for victims – A consultation on improving victims’ experiences of the justice system”

Open letter to Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP – Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Justice

Thank you for the opportunity to feed into the Victims Bill. The Restorative Justice for All International Institute (RJ4ALL) is focusing its response on issues that I believe will complement other submissions, while using evidence from our existing and past projects as an international research institute that runs the London-based RJ4All Rotherhithe Community centre.

RJ4All has a long record of working with victims of crime, both directly and for social policy. This response follows our 2020 response on revising the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime. It is based on evidences that we recently collected while consulting directly with a group of victims and related professionals at our International Conference.  The conference was addressed by Sir Bob Neill MP for Bromley & Chislehurst and Chairman of the Justice Select Committee. We understand that the Committee will be hearing evidence, and we welcome the opportunity to complement this written response. I should also point out that the following proposals are also based on our own long and extensive work in this field, as well as my own academic publications/ research. Since 2020, we have become the managers of the Rotherhithe Community Centre, where we provide services through a holistic model for community cohesion, crime prevention and control. The lived experiences of our users are the key drives of our response.

In fact, it is my ambition that over the next few years I develop the SE16 area to become the first London restorative post code. This submission aims to bring this to your attention along with evidences that you might find useful. It is our hope that our work as crime prevention and community cohesion NGO will support the much-anticipated Victims Law. It is also our hope that we will be able to work closer with your office.

In this open letter, which supplements our submission, I want to emphasise the need not only to strengthen the law in protecting victims, but also the importance of working with communities and victims directly. RJ4All believes that the law alone cannot help you deliver your intentions for serving victims better. Speaking with victims, you will also understand that the line between who is a victim and who is an offender are often blurred. In the vicious circle of violence, linear definitions must be viewed carefully especially when aiming to serve those who have been harmed (Gavrielides, 2015). 

Restorative justice has much to offer in relation to understanding better harmed parties, and restoring peace as opposed to merely processing individuals through “the sausage machine” of the criminal justice system (Gavrielides, 2021). The restorative process demands power-sharing that is based on the premise that all parties in conflict are equal in the identification of harm, and in reaching an agreement for restitution (Gavrielides, 2014). RJ4All has long advocated redressing the power imbalance within our criminal justice system, which marginalizes victims in particular. Victims should not be mere subjects, to be used as witnesses by the state. They have the right to be full parties in their own case and this should be recognized in law. It takes an exceptional level of honesty, integrity and moral judgment to help victims gain their own voice in the justice system. A key underlying value of restorative justice is power sharing. This must be pursued at all levels when engaging with victims. We are yet to see this from your office and proposed law.

Furthermore, as the evidence of our programmes show, restorative justice is widespread, but piecemeal, inconsistent and sometimes invisible. Restorative justice is also characterised by numerous implementation barriers and definitional ambiguity. While there is thorough evaluation of restorative justice with certain offences, in others areas the evidence is still accumulating. The limited data suggests, however, that the restorative justice practice – and most importantly the values underlying its ethos – are able to provide answers that many psychologists, criminologists, social workers and prison staff have strived to find. Over the last few years, we have seen an unpresented interest by your government in restorative justice. This interest is welcomed, but the policies and funding that have resulted from it are deeply concerning. I have provided evidence to this effect expressing my view that the top down support that has been provided reproduces the power structures that the very notion of restorative justice was meant to address. Notwithstanding, restorative justice will continue to be delivered by communities with or without formal support. I ask that you look into the potential of these programmes as well as other user led and user focused practices (Gavrielides, 2020; 2019; 2018; 2017).

The RJ4All International Institute is at your disposal should you require clarifications or further evidence. As a membership organisation we also aim to share this submission with our members and database subscribers. 

Dr. Theo Gavrielides

RJ4All Founder and Director

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