guidelines will unambiguously specify the involvement of the police

The three-year private funding of restorative justice schemes in Northern Ireland, by the Atlantic Philanthrophies group – of £936,000, comes to an end this year, see funding outline here, and has lead to increased concern over how those schemes fit into the criminal justice system, and how they operate within communities. Mick previously noted the Broom of Anger’s reaction to the debate so far, and there was a warning from the Policing Board. The BBC’s Mark Devenport, at the start of October, had a good assessment of the situation and noted that there was already a difference in how the schemes operated – Those run under the auspices of the Northern Ireland Alternatives, in the designated loyalist areas, already have representatives of the police on their boards.. only the schemes in designated republican areas, run by CRJ Ireland, do not have any official contact with the police. NIO minister David Hanson has today issued a statement on the future guidelines for CRJ schemes – guidelines which will likely be linked to any public funding. Update The figure of £936,000 in funding from Atlantic Philanthropies relates only to Community Restorative Justice Ireland. Northern Ireland Alternatives [details at the previous link], which operates CRJ schemes in loyalist areas, received £860,000 from the same source.The detail of David Hanson’s written statement to the House of Commons is worth noting, the more controversial aspects of restorative justice schemes would appear to be addressed by points 1(i), (ii), (iii) and (iv) –

NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE

Statement on Community-based Restorative Justice

The Minister of State for Northern Ireland (David Hanson, MP):

1. The Government has been seeking to develop guidelines to give effect to the recommendation in the Review of the Criminal Justice System relating to community-based restorative justice (rec. 168). The Review recommended that community-based restorative justice schemes could have a role to play in dealing with the types of low-level crime that most commonly concern local communities, subject to a number of conditions and safeguards. These were that such schemes should:

(i) receive referrals from a statutory criminal justice agency, rather than from within the community, with the police being informed of all such referrals;

(ii) be accredited by, and subject to standards laid down by the Government in respect of how they deal with criminal activity, covering such issues as training of staff, human rights protections, other due process and proportionality issues, and complaints mechanisms for both victims and offenders;

(iii) be subject to regular inspection by the independent Criminal Justice Inspectorate; and

(iv) have no role in determining the guilt or innocence of alleged offenders, and deal only with those individuals referred by a criminal justice agency who have indicated that they do not wish to deny guilt and where there is prima facie evidence of guilt.

2. In line with the Review, there is no question of the Government approving a two tier system. The guidelines will unambiguously specify the involvement of the police and other statutory criminal justice organisations in the operation of the community-based schemes. That is why the work on the guidelines is being taken forward by a group including representatives of the PSNI, the Public Prosecution Service, the Probation Board for Northern Ireland and the Youth Justice Agency as well as officials from my Department. The group has been in contact with the community-based schemes about the guidelines and aims to complete the current round of discussions with them by around 30 November 2005. Following that I plan in December to circulate the guidelines to the main political parties in Northern Ireland as well as to the Policing Board and other key stakeholders for comment. I would expect this process to be completed in the New Year, when decisions will be taken on the way forward.

  • JD

    CRJ has never seen itself as an alternative to police service, irrespective if that police service is acceptable or not. They are a mediation service to which participants subject themselves to on an entirely voluntary basis. It has been shown internationally to been an extremely effective method of dealing with low level anti-community behaviour or nieghbourhood disputes, an area where formal policing is particularly ineffective. Political posturing by the SDLP and the NIO are endangering the good work that is being done.

  • stu

    JD- ‘CRJ has never seen itself as an alternative to police service, irrespective if that police service is acceptable or not’

    Who decides whether a police service is acceptable?

  • JD

    Stu

    The community that it serves

  • stu

    JD

    The police’s role is to uphold the law and ensure public order, not to do the bidding of a community if/when it decides it necessary.

    The police here have enough mud slung at them without being deemed inappropriate for their job. I would contest that it is these attitudes that that what make the ‘low level anti community’ problems you mentioned difficult to deal with, not the police themselves.

  • JD

    Stu, you cannot insist on community support for policing and then dismiss the views of the community on how they are to be policed.

    The reality is, ask the PSNI, that there is not a police service anywhere in the world that deals effectively with low level anti-community activity or community disputes, mainly for the reason that in some cases no crime is being committed or they do not have the resources to deal with these issues.

    CRJ offers a service which can be complimentary to proper policing by an effective and accountable service. It should be encouraged not pillared.

  • stu

    JD

    Show me where I

    1)Insisted on community support for policing
    2)Dismissed the views of the community
    3)’Pillared’ CRJ

    And I’ll be happy to engage rather than just provide you with ammunition to make your next point.

  • JD

    “The police’s role is to uphold the law and ensure public order, not to do the bidding of a community if/when it decides it necessary.”

    This is fine, however a police service cannot operate effectively without community support, therefore it makes sense to take on board the views of that community when deciding policing strategies.

    CRJ is not a policing service, it is a community based mediation service which has and can play a useful role in an overall strategy to tackle low level anti-community activity and nieghbourhood disputes. I did not suggest that you pilloried (sorry for the previous spelling) CRJ but the SDLP has.

  • stu

    ‘This is fine, however a police service cannot operate effectively without community support, therefore it makes sense to take on board the views of that community when deciding policing strategies.’

    Exactly. That’s what the policing board is there for.

    ‘CRJ is not a policing service, it is a community based mediation service which has and can play a useful role in an overall strategy to tackle low level anti-community activity and nieghbourhood disputes.’

    And a useful role that is too. I’m in agreement with you on the CRJ and its role, also its useful, I just take exception to the concept of ‘acceptability’ of a Police Force. I thought the SDLP would have been above this sort of thing, but it seems where there are points to be scored, someone will take them, no matter how cheap.

  • Bogexile

    ‘there is not a police service anywhere in the world that deals effectively with low level anti-community activity or community disputes,’

    Not true, in England, neighbourhood policing teams working with Youth Offending Teams are having a major impact in community problem solving around anti-social behaviour.

    RJ works best in a multi-agency context – law enforcement needs to be represented although their involvement can and sometimes needs to be subtle.

  • JD

    The SDLP are not above absolutely anything. They are fighting a rearguard action in a vain attempt to cover for their decision to jump early on policing. We are in the ridiculous situation of the SDLP demanding a halt to any further changes in policing structures in case the nationalist electorate can see how far short the SDLP fell in achieving a new beginning to policing.

  • stu

    JD

    Interesting, I hadn’t looked at it like that. As a (technically) Protestant voter who went with the SDLP in the last elections because they seemed like the sensible party, can I expect this level of backpedalling and wheedling on other important issues?

  • JD

    Yes, example Water Charges. Mark Durkan along with David Trimble agreed with water charges as part Regeneration and Reform Initiative with the British Treasury. Three British Government ministers have testified to that fact. Yet they have been backpeddling and wheedling ever since.

    But thats a subject for another day.

  • Bogexile

    ‘points 1(i), (ii), (iii) and (iv) – ‘

    Wow! Spooky! – some sensible anti-Kangaroo court mesures applicable world wide with the exception of ‘left of scotland.’

  • Brendan, Belfast

    JD writes “Yes, example Water Charges. Mark Durkan along with David Trimble agreed with water charges as part Regeneration and Reform Initiative with the British Treasury.”

    as i recall (correctly) the entire Executive signed up to the RRI – including the absentee DUP Ministers and SF. And if you want to be truly accurate , the RRI did not explicitly include water charges, but more “self financing.”

    All the parties have back pedalle don this one – except perhaps DUP who appear happy enough to accept water charges.

    But as you say JD its another thread altogether.

  • Pete Baker

    The point being missed, or avoided, so far – by some on this thread – is that the CRJ Ireland director, Jim Auld has, according to Mark Devenport’s report, already rejected draft guidelines which seemed to be based around point 1(i), in particular –

    But Community Restorative Justice rejected the suggested guidelines.

    Its director Jim Auld said the previous guidelines were nonsense because they would not have allowed his scheme to take any cases from the community, but only to work with referrals from the police.

  • JD

    PB, there is little point in rejecting ‘draft’ guideleines, as they are just that drafts and are there to be changed.
    There is a fundamental misunderstanding about the role and function of CRJ. CRJ, as I have said earlier, are a community based mediation service, nothing more nothing less. One of the reasons that they are successful is that they sit outside the formal criminal justice system, which makes them attractive to victims who do not want to take formal criminal action over minor incidents and merely would like to see their situation resloved through a process of mediation. It is another fundamental mistake to imagine that the only reason CRJI feels that it should not be connected to the police is that policing has not been resolved. If the policing problem was resolved, CRJ should still not be part of it, as it undermines one of its key roles, ie. being independant of the criminal justice system. This is not an unusual situation, many organisations worldwide pride themselves on being independant of statutory agencies indeed many restorative projects in the USA take a similar approach. These guidelines are a political tool to try and force the issue of policing on, particularly nationalist, communities and risk undermining excellent community initiatives that making very successful progress on the ground in order that cover be given to political parties that have already bought into policing. People who have questions about how CRJI work should come and see them operate on the ground for themselves, as they may find themselves very pleasantly surprised.

  • KD

    If CRJ or Shankill Alternatives are to receive gov money then they should be accountable for it. This should not necessarily mean direct police involvement. A problem with this, politics aside, is the time the police would take to process a case/file/referral. Good restorative practices should timely. It’s no use mediating low level neighbour disputes or anti social behaviour two months down the line. It has to be done asap to be effective.

    JD
    Yes it’s true that many RJ organisations operate independantly from stat agencies but this doesn’t mean the criminal justice system should not be restorative. Many countries are now begining to realise that the retributive system doesn’t work eg Australia, New Zealand etc

  • JD

    KD,

    Absolutely, as an advocate of restorative principles and practice I feel that it should be a cornerstone of any criminal justice system. However there should also be room for agencies outside the CJ system who are fully accountable, trained and professional and totally non-violent in how they operate. I would argue that CRJI meet those requirements and if improvements are required in accountability they can be easily put in place.