The NIO Criminal Justice minister David Hanson has announced the final finalised Protocols [pdf file] for what are now referred to as community-based restorative justice schemes – NIO statement here. This version comes over a year after the initial draft, and just over a week after the NI Affairs Committee’s recommedations were published.The NIO statement helpfully points to some of the changes made
1. Changes to the draft protocol include:
• providing further clarification that accredited schemes must deal only with low level offences referred to them by the Public Prosecution Service, and must provide directly to the PSNI the information which the police require to consider a reported offence or undertake further investigations;
• requiring schemes to operate in accordance with the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in their interaction with young victims and offenders;
• removing the provision for an Advisory Panel, which had been intended to act as a forum for considering whether cases were suitable for referral to schemes but had come to be viewed as having the potential to contribute to delay in processing cases;
• requiring schemes to maintain full records of all criminal and anti-social behaviour incidents they deal with, in order that the Criminal Justice Inspectorate can ensure that schemes are correctly identifying the offences they must report to police; and
• setting up a multi-agency Review Panel whose function will be to share information; examine the outcome of referrals to schemes and their effectiveness for particular classes of offence and offender; and, on request, provide advice to the Inspectorate in support of their inspection of the work of individual schemes.
And from the Protocols [pdf file]
Community restorative justice schemes can have a role to play in dealing with the types of low-level crime that most commonly concern local communities.
[Community schemes should:]
receive referrals from a statutory criminal justice agency, rather than from within the community, with the police being informed of all such referrals.
9. If a community-based scheme becomes aware of an offence or an offender, it will provide directly and promptly to a dedicated police officer the details it has about the offence, the offender and the victim, including such categories of information as the PSNI may indicate it requires to consider the reported offence or undertake further investigations. It should indicate in broad terms how it would plan to deal with the offence and offender if these were referred to it. (This should be a forecast based on previous practice: it is accepted that details would not be firmed up at this stage.)
10. The PSNI will consider the information received and determine whether it is necessary to undertake investigations to verify and add to the information. Depending on the nature of the offence, offenders will be fingerprinted and DNA taken by the police5. On receiving a report from the police, the PPS will consider the evidence and information provided and inform police promptly of the decision reached. The police will inform the scheme of that decision. Where the PPS judges it appropriate to refer a case to the scheme, the latter may proceed to handle the case. Where the PPS does not decide to refer the case, the scheme will take no further action with regard to the disposal of the case, although it may offer support to the victim or the offender where its relationships with them are already established. However, this should not extend to involving them in
restorative processes. The police and PPS will seek to fast-track the consideration of cases forwarded by schemes.
11. In determining whether it is in the public interest to refer an offender to a scheme, the PPS will take into consideration the evidence and information reported including the following:
• is there an admission of guilt, confirmed by a police investigation
• previous offending history of the offender
• the gravity of the offence
• the views of the victim
• such other information as is considered relevant.
12. When a community scheme has a case referred to it following a decision by the PPS, it may proceed to engage with the person involved in strict accordance with this Protocol. The PPS will decide whether referrals to schemes should include an informed warning or a restorative caution, and in such cases such a warning or caution will be given by a police officer. This will form part of the plan for dealing with the offender. Following delivery of an informed warning or restorative caution, the police officer will ensure that
appropriate details are recorded for insertion in the criminal record of the offender.
13. In the course of any processes undertaken by a scheme when dealing with an offender, any disclosure of specific instances of offending, other than that which was the subject of the original referral, must be dealt with in accordance with this Protocol, and the offender informed accordingly (as is the case for any criminal justice agency). If this arises, the scheme should suspend dealing with the offender until further decisions are reached by the PPS.
14. Appropriate procedures will need to be agreed to assist in the implementation of the above referral arrangements.
And on the suitability of individuals to work within CBRJ schemes
FACTORS TO BE CONSIDERED BY THE PANEL
Criteria for Unsuitability
1. An individual will be considered unsuitable to participate in community-based restorative justice activities governed by the Protocol in circumstances where:
• His or her name appears on the Disqualification from Working with Children List maintained by DHSSPS or Department of Education List of those unsuitable to
work with children;
• He or she is the subject of a Disqualification Order imposed under provisions in the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (NI) Order 2003;
• He or she has committed, after 10 April 1998, a serious arrestable offence within the meaning of Article 87 of and Schedule 5 to the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, or such equivalent offence as may be subsequently prescribed in this or another jurisdiction; [added emphasis]
• He or she has completed a term of imprisonment for a serious arrestable offence, or such equivalent offence as may be subsequently prescribed in this or another jurisdiction, within a period of three years from the date of the individual’s identification to the Panel by a Scheme.
2. Where the above criteria do not apply, the Panel will review all relevant information before determining the overall suitability of individuals to engage in scheme activities governed by the Protocols.
Information to be considered by the Suitability Panel
3. The information available to the Panel will include:
• Any information provided by the individual and the community-based restorative justice scheme in support of his or her application;
• Any information provided under the provisions of the Protection of Children & Vulnerable Adults legislation;
• The individual’s full criminal record (if any);
• Any information provided by statutory organisations which might indicate the individual’s involvement in criminal or paramilitary activity, or otherwise indicate that he or she would be unsuitable for appointment on the grounds that this would compromise public safety or have a significant adverse impact on public confidence in the process; [added emphasis]
• Any representations made by the individual to the Panel.