First section of the IMC report deals with CRJ. Discuss.Quote:

Community Restorative Justice

2.8 It is against this background that we think it right to return to the issue of community restorative justice. We have made clear our support in principle for schemes which operate accountably and to acceptable standards. We have said this because we think that in some communities, where the culture of lawfulness is not well embedded, such schemes can offer people an acceptable alternative to turning to paramilitaries. Over time schemes can help integrate official law enforcement and justice procedures into communities which have for too long been estranged from them, and can do so in a manner which reflects the circumstances and traditions of those communities.

2.9 We know that properly structured community restorative justice schemes have addressed the cases of hundreds of persistent repeat young offenders and that many of these people have as a result been saved from threats, exiling or violence at the hands of paramilitaries. The schemes have also offered routes for the peaceful resolution of other local disputes, often of a minor but nevertheless very aggravating kind. And where they co-operate with official agencies the schemes can help foster local-level relations with the police even when political and community leaders are not yet prepared to give their general support to co-operation with the police. In all these sorts of ways the schemes can help loosen the control that paramilitaries have had in those communities – something which is at the heart of our remit and which we believe is essential if paramilitary control and criminality are to be removed from any role in the life of Northern Ireland.

2.10 Our emphasis on accountability and standards is central to this view. Community restorative justice must never be a cover for the paramilitary groups, whereby they are able to continue to exercise an unhealthy influence under a more respectable label. The schemes must be open as well as accountable, including by having procedures for individual complaints, arrangements to ensure that only suitable people are employed, oversight and external inspection and an unambiguous relationship with the criminal justice system as a whole. As they develop the schemes must be increasingly associated with the agencies of the official criminal justice system, including the police. There can never be any question of alternative or parallel justice systems. To allow that would run the risk of legitimising the paramilitaries under a new guise, and so prolong exactly the thing the schemes are capable of helping to curtail.

2.11 Since we commented on community restorative justice in November 2004 and May 2005 we have heard from a number of people about their concerns over some developments. Views have reached us from organisations and from individuals, the latter speaking with first hand personal experience within the very communities where the paramilitaries have been most active and have had the tightest grip.

2.12 These accounts have had two main features. First, that there have been some instances of people known for their involvement in community restorative justice schemes, and sometimes apparently speaking in the name of such schemes, who have tried to exert improper pressure on individuals, whether victims, alleged offenders, or members of their families. Those who have exerted this pressure are sometimes also known for their paramilitary connections. As reported to us, this pressure is seen by those on whom it is exerted as intended to secure the disposal of the crime without recourse to the criminal justice system, including police, for example by requiring the alleged offender to move to another location or to refrain from visiting certain places in future. While the allegations put to us may not always have involved actual violence against victims or alleged offenders they have sometimes referred to what has been described as an “undercurrent of threat” – and threat has been sufficient. The second feature of the accounts has been the type and seriousness of some of the offences, which fall well outside the scope of ordinary restorative justice schemes. As a matter of general principle, for example, violent offences against the person and sexual offences are not appropriate for restorative justice.

2.13 In short, we have been told of a number of instances of restorative justice being invoked as a means of continuing to exert paramilitary control within communities, and of what seems to at least some people living and working in those communities as paramilitarism operating under the guise of restorative justice.

2.14 To the extent that this does happen, it raises issues which are important for several reasons. Individuals may be subjected to threats or to improper pressure and so deprived of their human rights and access to justice; and some who are entirely innocent may be unfairly pilloried and have no recourse to that justice. Serious crimes which can be effectively dealt with only by the criminal justice system may not be properly pursued and offenders may escape justice. The reputation of community restorative justice may be damaged. As a consequence communities will suffer because this reduces its ability to serve a useful role in helping wean people away from paramilitary influence, and individuals will suffer because some offenders and victims will be denied the means of dealing with minor crime that they might otherwise have had. It may also inhibit the development of normal policing. Paramilitaries may be emboldened to continue to exercise control within communities under a new cloak of respectability and according to their own definitions of what is acceptable. In so doing they will operate a form of alternative “justice” system which serves their purposes and will keep at a distance the agencies of criminal justice to which all are entitled to have recourse.

2.15 We fully understand that it is right to draw a distinction between what is properly and officially done as part of a restorative justice scheme and the role of people who purport to speak and act in its name as a means, in some instances at least, of furthering their own interests. The present community schemes which are subject to external monitoring are not large, and are not meant to embrace serious offences of the kind described in some of these accounts. We know that if they are to receive public funds they will be subject to safeguards and inspection, as are other parts of the criminal justice system. The draft guidelines published in December 2005 and currently under consultation provide for safeguards, and we understand that these schemes want to implement such arrangements.

2.16 We also recognise, as we have before, the valuable role that is performed in these schemes by some ex-paramilitaries. We do not therefore want to exaggerate the issue or to tarnish the reputation of properly managed restorative justice schemes with instances of where people have acted entirely improperly. We recognise that in some cases it is possible that some members of the public may not have been aware of restorative justice volunteers who have given up their paramilitary past, or may not have distinguished between legitimate restorative justice and other local, unlawful vigilantes. We nevertheless believe there are some people – who may or may not be personally associated with community restorative justice – who in some instances use it as a cover for the exercise of paramilitary influence or who allow people to think they are doing so. This is exactly what we had previously said must not be allowed to happen.

2.17 We have been unable to date to determine how widespread this phenomenon really is, though we do not doubt it is happening and we believe that it delays the firm establishment of a “culture of lawfulness”. The more benign interpretation is that it is part of the difficult process of transition from a world where violence and threats were the norm and the writ of the agencies of the criminal law did not effectively run, and that it is therefore a passing phase. The more sinister and worrying interpretation is that it represents a deliberate tactic on behalf of paramilitaries to find new means of exerting their control now that violence or other crude threats are less open to them; and that by this means they can prolong a situation where people turn to them rather than to the forces of the law. To the extent that there is evidence that activities of this kind are promoted by paramilitary groups as such they fall within our terms of reference and we will continue to monitor them. We know that allegations of this kind have also been made to others. We urge people to bring to attention not only concerns and allegations of difficulties but also instances of good practice.

Next: IMC on PIRA – The good news

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