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Using restorative justice at the pre-sentence stage of the criminal justice process

Apr 19, 2013

from the article by Ian Marder in TransConflict:

....This process is similar in many respects to that envisaged by Schedule 15(2) of the Crime and Courts Bill, currently making its way through the British Parliament, which specifies that the judiciary in England and Wales may “defer the passing of sentence to allow for restorative justice”. Deferred sentencing, as outlined originally in s.22 of the 1972 Criminal Justice Act, enables the Courts to consider the conduct of an offender post-conviction, but prior to sentencing. Following recommendations to expand its use in the 2001 Review of the Sentencing Framework, deferred sentencing appeared most recently in law under Schedule 23 of the 2003 Criminal Justice Act, which extended the definition of the word “conduct” and outlined a variety of requirements which the Courts can order of an offender whose sentence has been deferred.

While it has long been possible, therefore, to undertake restorative justice as part of a deferred sentence, it has not been used at the pre-sentence stage in England and Wales since trials sponsored by the Home Office were completed in 2004, according to the Prison Reform Trust. It seems likely, though, that by providing a statutory backing, this Bill will increase the perceived credibility of restorative justice among the Courts and, subsequently, lead to a higher number of court referrals. It is for this reason that the Bill has been described by the Restorative Justice Council as “the biggest development for restorative justice in England and Wales since legislation introducing referral order panels to the youth justice system in 1999”.

Although, unlike in Northern Ireland, it will not be compulsory for judges and magistrates here to offer restorative justice to victims and offenders, the Bill does not set an age limit on the offenders who may participate. This makes it possible that the use of restorative justice at this stage with adults may dramatically increase in the coming years, albeit being limited by, firstly, the capacity of relevant agencies to deliver restorative processes in a given locality and, secondly, the willingness of the Courts to defer sentencing so that a restorative process may take place. The next steps, therefore, are to train and educate judges and magistrates so that they feel comfortable enough to make use of this option, and ensure that there is the capacity to provide a restorative process in every area; a victim who wants to meet their offender should never be turned down because of a lack of service provision.

Read the whole article.

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