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Open Letter to Minister for Victims and Safeguarding: The Victims Act & Restorative Justice 

Minister Laura Farris 

Minister for Victims and Safeguarding 

Home Office and Ministry of Justice 

House of Commons 

London  

SW1A 0AA 

 

 

 

 

 

12 June 2024 

Dear Minister Farris,  

I am writing to formally follow up on my interim response to your letter dated 3rd May 2024, regarding the Victims and Prisoners Bill and the victims’ right to restorative justice. We welcome the Act and the commitments made by the government; however, we wish to address several points related firstly to statutory requirements in the Act and secondly the promised revision of the Victims Code, before focusing on our final overall concerns. All points are evidence-based and I would be happy to share with your team the references from where our arguments are drawn.  

A. The Victims and Prisioners Act

We appreciate the government’s dedication to enhancing support for victims through the new Act, especially by requiring agencies to adhere to the Victims Code and establishing complaint procedures for non-compliance. While we are disappointed that a statutory Victims’ Right to Restorative Justice was not included, we welcome the government’s intention to revise the Victims Code to strengthen this right which remains without teeth.  

Out of the many points raised in your letter, we wish to focus on the following:  

Increasing Transparency through Data Collection 

  • Local and National Oversight: We seek clear details on how local and national oversight of agency performance will be conducted and monitored. Specifically, we need to know who will be responsible for issuing guidance on the process and by when. Additionally, we require information on which agencies will be bound to adhere to these guidelines and the timeline. The mechanisms to ensure consistent oversight and the consequences for agencies that fail to meet these standards must be explicitly defined.  
  • Incorporating Victims’ Organisations: We appreciate the recognition of the value of victims’ organisations in developing the data collection required to monitor agency compliance with the Victims Code. However, we seek clarification on what is meant by “victims’ organisations” and how this term is defined. We ask for a firm commitment to include restorative justice organisations and independent restorative justice community practitioners in this category, as there is a significant overlap in our missions. The terminology should not prevent organisations like ours from being included and valued in this process.  
  • Engagement Procedure: Finally, we seek details on the procedure for organisations, such as ours as well as restorative justice practitioners, to engage in dialogue and contribute to the monitoring of agency compliance. Understanding how we can participate in this important aspect of oversight will help us align our efforts and support the effective implementation of the Act.   

Support for Restorative Justice Practitioners   

We welcome the amendment to clause 15 of the Victims Act to include restorative justice practitioners. This broader and more inclusive approach will undoubtedly support restorative justice practitioners who actively work with victims who choose to pursue restorative justice options. We remain concerned with intentions to control restorative justice practice from the top and through formal and paid registers. This attempt has failed in the past both in the UK and internationally. While compliance with restorative justice values and internationally acceptable standards is paramount, restorative justice practitioners must be approached within the community-born spirit of restorative justice. We would be happy to support the government to approach this matter in a successful and inclusive manner including tapping into our recently launched International Fellowship of Restorative Justice Practitioners (IFRJP). 

B. Promised Revision of the Victims Code 

It is paramount that we get a clear idea of what the revision of the current Victims Code will involve, rough timescales, and how the non-statutory nature of the Code will be elevated. In particular:  

Strengthening Victims’ Entitlement to Information on Restorative Justice also upon conviction 

We request official and concrete clarity on this commitment and its connection to the Code’s revision. Specifically, we seek information on the timing of its implementation following the Act’s passage, the involvement of external stakeholders and restorative justice experts in the consultation process for the Code’s revision, and the specific content to be included. It is also important to understand whether this obligation will extend to all criminal justice agencies and at all stages of the criminal justice process. Our Institute would be happy to help with the consultation and give access to our IFRJP for feedback.  

Accountability of Criminal Agencies 

Given the rejection of statutory entitlement for victims to hold criminal agencies accountable in the Act, the government would need to provide specific details on the non-statutory alternatives being considered to enhance accountability and transparency within these agencies. Specifically, what measures will be put in place to guarantee these alternatives will greatly improve victim support services’ effectiveness? 

C. RJ4All’s Restorative Justice Practice Framework 

Building upon our previous points regarding restorative justice and its implementation, we would like to highlight our organisation’s commitment to excellence and the delivery of practice that is safe, voluntary and high quality for all parties. RJ4All implements its own Restorative Justice Practice Framework, developed in consultation with practitioners and based on best practice evidence. This framework honours core restorative justice values and principles, ensuring practices are safe, impartial, confidential, fair, voluntary, and of high quality. We oppose the standardisation of restorative justice and emphasise its community-led nature, free from domination, discrimination, bias, and power abuse. Our framework requires all restorative justice practitioners with RJ4All to adhere to these values and the International Restorative Justice Pledge.  

Evidence has repeatedly proved that there should be no blanket exclusions for restorative justice practice. In fact, the available research on restorative justice with complex cases suggests that the bigger the impact of the crime on victims and offenders the more likely the restorative justice intervention will be impactful and successful. This also includes gender-based violence and thus victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence should indeed have access to restorative justice services if assessed as safe and appropriate. We refer you to RJ4All’s “Practitioner’s guide to implementing restorative justice: Intimate Partner Violence & Domestic Violence”. 

Given the historical opposition to the use of restorative justice in serious offences, we request a firm commitment to move forward based on the evidence supporting its efficacy, when considered safe. We stand ready to support the government in any way to implement these changes effectively.  

D. APPG on Restorative Justice 

In my last communication to Lord Bellamy, I pointed out that your government must note that the APPG has refused engagement on restorative justice unless a membership fee is paid to them. Our Institute, and many other community-based restorative justice organisations cannot afford the cost of this membership. RJ4All has approached the APPG Secretariat on several occasions offering alternatives. These were either turned down or not responded to. Requiring a fee of a few thousand GBP to contribute to democratic debates not only goes against the very ethos of restorative justice dialogue but also of our democracy. This point remains unaddressed, and it is a key democratic concern that any government should be concerned about.  

Key Concluding Concerns  

Throughout our advocacy efforts surrounding the Victims and Prisoners Act, including consultations during its passage through the House of Lords, we emphasised through evidence-based approaches the government’s failure to consistently implement victims’ rights through the existing Victims’ Code. With these reservations in mind, we remain apprehensive about the extent to which the commitment to support restorative justice through a revised Victims’ Code will ensure equal access for all victims, particularly in light of the upcoming general elections only one month after the Act’s passage. Additionally, our concerns extend to the new government’s commitment to supporting and enhancing community-based restorative justice programmes, which have proven to be highly effective but face significant barriers. We remain firm believers in the community-led nature of restorative justice.  

Given these challenges, we urge the new government to revise the restorative justice guidance for MOPAC and other Police and Crime Commissioners and to support community-led restorative justice initiatives without imposing paid memberships and registers.  

We look forward to receiving the requested clarifications and remain keen to meet you to discuss further   

 

Yours sincerely,  

Dr. Theo Gavrielides 

RJ4All Founder and Director 

For further inquiries and media contact:

Dr. Theo Gavrielides 

Direct no +44(0)7732569000 office no: +44(0)7708758600

@TGavrielides | @RJforAll | Facebook | Linkedin | Wikipedia

RJ4All’s mission is to inform policy design remains ongoing, employing a multi-faceted approach that integrates expert insights, community experiences, and public campaigns. By leveraging these diverse perspectives, RJ4All aims to elevate discussions about restorative justice and ensure its prominence in policy conversations.

Information for editors 

Restorative Justice for All International Institute (RJ4All)

RJ4All is a charitable international institute with a mission to address power abuse, conflict, and poverty through the use of restorative justice values and practices. We do this through a combination of restorative justice projects delivered both internationally and locally at the RJ4All Rotherhithe Community Centre in London.  We advance community cohesion, equality, human rights, and redistribute power by supporting civil society and delivering social justice and poverty relief projects, educational programmes and high-quality volunteering opportunities for marginalised groups.  

 

For more information: https://rj4all.org/ 

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