Consultation, consultation, consultation..

At first glance I thought this might be yet another set of guidelines for CRJ groups, but it appears that what the NIO are announcing today is actually the start of the 12 week consultation period, as previously announced in July... and the results of the Equality Impact Assessment[PDF file], which has a few interesting paragraphs to note… on equality concerns..Firstly, it’s worth noting the recommendation that led to these guidelines, by the Criminal Justice Review, Restorative Justice Options for Northern Ireland: A Comparative Review. Published in March 2000.

2.2.4 The Criminal Justice Review also looked at the potential for a broader based community-based restorative justice (CBRJ) approach in dealing more generally with incidences of low level crime in local communities. To assist them in their consideration of these issues the Criminal Justice Review Group (CJRG) commissioned a report(1) on relevant research relating to the concept and practice of restorative justice and its applicability to Northern Ireland.

2.2.5 As part of its consideration, the CJRG also looked at a number of communitybased restorative justice schemes which had evolved in certain republican and loyalist areas in Northern Ireland in the late 1990s. The CBRJ schemes operating in both communities describe their role as providing a non-violent alternative to paramilitary intervention on issues of criminality, anti-social behaviour and localised disputes which concern the residents within their communities

2.2.6 The Review, while recognising the concerns expressed by a wide range of interested parties about how such schemes might operate and the risks inherent in CBRJ schemes in Northern Ireland, proposed (in recommendation 168) a role for community-based restorative justice schemes in dealing with low level crime subject to specific safeguards set out in the Review. The text of the recommendation is replicated below:

Recommendation 168

“ We believe that community restorative justice schemes can have a role to play in dealing with the types of low level crime that commonly concerns local communities. However we recommend that community restorative justice 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 Criminal Justice Inspectorate which we recommend in chapter 15; and
(iv) have no role in determining 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 facia evidence of guilt.”

And, after finally implementing that recommendation, in the second set of Protocols issued in July, the NIO Equality Impact Assesment?

(c) Protocol related issues

4.1.5 Equality screening of the policy identified that the central role for police in the proposals detailed in the draft Protocol might potentially impact adversely on one community more than the other. The schemes which operate in nationalist areas have been reluctant to support the role of PSNI in the community-based restorative justice process ahead of securing a political resolution of the policing issue more generally. The strengthening of the draft Protocol to remove third party reporting provisions and to require schemes to have a direct relationship with PSNI may therefore be perceived as having an adverse impact on individuals in those communities. The existing schemes which operate in loyalist areas already engage directly with police to a much greater extent and are unlikely to experience the same concerns about any strengthening of that relationship.

4.1.6 Taking account of these issues, the equality screening exercise conducted on the policy proposals identified the potential for an adverse impact on individuals or groups on the basis of political opinion. It also identified the potential for a lower uptake from schemes within nationalist communities as a consequence of an aspect of the policy which might generate difficulties specific to them. These issues are addressed in section 5 of this document which considers whether there are any opportunities for mitigation or whether any potential impact may be justified in overall policy terms.

Got that? The NIO assessment is that, because of their political beliefs, a section of the community may not co-operate with CRJ groups if the police are directly involved… and that, seemingly, is an Equality concern. Not their choice, but an equality concern.

Thankfully, eventually, common sense [and public pressure? – Ed] has prevailed as noted in Section 5 of the assessment.

22 Conclusion: It has not been possible to identify any options which might ameliorate the potential impacton schemes in nationalist areas whilst still promoting a high level of public confidence in the overall process. In these circumstances we believe that any potential adverse impact which may arise as a consequence of the requirement for schemes to engage directly with PSNI would be justified.

Frankly I’m concerned that they sought to identify another option. ANYway..

One other point to note.. again from Table 3, Consideration of Identified Impacts

Conclusion: We do not believe that communities with schemes which are ready to adopt the Protocol should be prevented from being accredited because other communities may not yet have garnered sufficient community support for establishing restorative justice structures.

That would mean that any group which doesn’t sign up after the consultation finishes will not be accredited.. but those that do will. Which, as well as having implications for their funding, should, I’d suggest, have implications for their continuation as restorative justice groups.

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