“The centrality of the police to the way in which schemes operate is non-negotiable”

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Shaun Woodward, has announced the accreditation of four community-based restorative justice schemes in line with the protocols published in February this year. The four are – Northern Ireland Alternatives; Greater Shankill Alternatives; East Belfast Alternatives; and North Belfast Alternatives – register available here [pdf file]. 11 other schemes “who expressed interest in accreditation, are still engaged in completing the pre-accreditation stages of the process.” Adds Additional report here. Tom Winstone of the Northern Ireland Alternatives – “This is the Government saying what we have been doing for the last 11 years is accredited.” [No. It isn’t – Ed] “Now we will be going to the Government, the Department for Social Development for funding.” [Indeed – Ed]From the NIO statement

4. Accreditation of CBRJ schemes, under the terms of the Protocol, is a two stage process. Schemes must first be the subject of a pre-accreditation inspection by the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice (CJINI) and secondly a Suitability Panel must determine the suitability of individuals to work on activities governed by the Protocol.

5. The Protocol for community based restorative justice schemes contains a number of important safeguards which include:

The Protocol requires that schemes engage, and have a direct relationship, with police on all matters governed by the Protocol. The centrality of the police to the way in which schemes operate is non-negotiable.

All individuals working on activities governed by the Protocol must have a determination of suitability from a Suitability Panel working in accordance with published criteria set out in the Protocol. The Suitability Panel is chaired by a representative of the Community Relations Council with other members drawn from the Probation Board for Northern Ireland and the Youth Justice Agency.

The Probation Board for Northern Ireland will operate an independent complaints mechanism for victims and offenders who may have cause to raise concerns about how a scheme has handled their case.

The Protocol sets exacting standards which schemes must meet to achieve accreditation, with continued compliance tested by a rigorous, regular and unannounced inspection regime undertaken by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate who shall publish their inspection reports.

The Protocol establishes the relationship between schemes and the criminal justice system in dealing with low-level criminal offences and offenders and, by definition, governs cases which have both achieved the criminal threshold and been deemed suitable by the Public Prosecution Service for referral for a restorative disposal.

6. The Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Public Prosecution Service have been working with schemes in the lead-up to accreditation to set in place the necessary referral arrangements to support the implementation of the Protocol. This paves the way for accredited schemes to identify the first cases to statutory agencies for consideration of referral under the terms of the Protocol.