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.