Paul Goggins – 2003 Speech on Restorative Justice

Below is the text of the speech made by the then Home Office Minister, Paul Goggins, to the Restorative Justice Conference on 28th November 2003.

I am delighted to be able to make a contribution to today’s conference which provides us with an important opportunity to highlight the benefits of Restorative Justice and to feed back some of the responses we have received from the consultation that has been taking place over the last few months.

I hope that today will also be an opportunity to exchange ideas and good practice. As Sir Charles has already said, it is an exciting time for restorative justice.

Of course this approach isn’t new, and many of you have been working in this area for a long time – spreading the word and developing good practice. But I do sense that Restorative Justice is beginning to capture people’s imagination and to gather some real momentum.

So I want, first of all, to thank you all for the contribution you are making to the development of Government thinking on Restorative Justice; in particular for your thoughtful and thought-provoking responses to the strategy document; and indeed for the ways in which you continue to take restorative justice forward in practice.

I especially want to thank Sir Charles and the Restorative Justice Consortium who have done so much to press and pioneer this work. The Government is determined to put the victim at the heart of the criminal justice system. It was no co-incidence that we published our National Strategy for Victims and Witnesses on the same day as the Restorative Justice strategy, indeed the two are designed to support each other.

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims bill announced in this week’s Queen’s Speech will, for the first time, give victims of crime guaranteed rights to information and advice from all the criminal justice agencies and ensure that the interests of victims are championed right across government.

And Restorative justice is, of course, centred on the needs of victims: their need to spell out the harm an offender has inflicted on them; their need to draw a line under events and put the crime behind them; their need to see an offender put something back into the community to make restitution for the damage they have caused.

Some people argue that this is a soft option – but I don’t agree.

Facing up to the consequences of what he has done and making amends can be a real turning point for an offender. It certainly was for the 17 year old I came across who had met face to face with the person whose house she had burgled and had resolved to make changes to her life – change that now includes a full-time college course.

It also transformed the attitude of the young boy I was told about on a visit to a local Youth Offending Team after he met the leader of the disabled persons’ group who were regular users of a building he had recently damaged.

And in reality it is this kind of change that victims want. Of course they are deeply angry and hurt by crime and their sense of justice will mean they want to have punishment meted out. But they also want to see attitudes challenged, to see people given the chance to change and to make amends for the harm they have caused.

Without doubt one of the biggest obstacle we face in the criminal justice system at the present time is the perception that it lacks public confidence. Crime is down 25% in the last 6 years and you are less likely to be a victim of crime now than at any time in the last 20 years. But people simply don’t believe it – they feel afraid and sceptical.

Part of the answer at least lies in greater public participation – and restorative justice can help achieve that – whether by direct contact between the victim and offender or through the kind of community improvements delivered through sentences like the Enhanced Community Punishment. One of the things I particularly like about the Enhanced Community Punishment is the distinctive logo that will enable local people to recognise that someone has been putting something back into the community as payment for the damage they have done.

Justice shouldn’t be something far removed from the individuals and communities harmed by crime. And a more open and engaged process will give people the grounds for greater confidence in the Criminal Justice System.

But I don’t want Restorative Justice to simply be reserved for serious offenders. I also want to see this approach become firmly embedded in the everyday life of local communities. It can guide the way that schools develop effective discipline and anti-bullying strategies. It can help deal with low level anti-social behaviour as well as provide a way of mediating between neighbours who can’t get on – and don’t have a clue about how to start putting things right.

Restorative justice should be a way of restoring balance to relationships and situations where conflict and fear may otherwise reign.

The consultation process on Restorative Justice has been crucial to the development of our thinking. We received just over 100 responses to the strategy document and I want to warmly thank every one of you who sent in your views. Your thoughts, ideas, criticisms and comments will form the basis of future policy and practice.

Christine Stewart is going to go into this in more detail, but I want to outline some of the key themes that have emerged.

One of the key issues to emerge from the consultation is the pace of implementation. It was striking that so many people who passionately believe in Restorative Justice want to see it introduced in a careful, gradual way. They want to be sure that as it grows it keeps its integrity. They want to be sure that that too much enthusiasm does not lead to this approach being used when it isn’t actually appropriate.

I take heart from this caution, because it reflects the approach we are in fact taking: careful development, continuing innovation, safeguarding standards, and ongoing research into its impact and effectiveness.

As we promised in the document, work has started with a group of practitioners to develop accreditation standards for restorative justice. We have also invited bids from those who are interested in carrying out research into the trial of the new diversionary Restorative Justice. It is important that we put in place a strong evidence base for the work we are doing.

A second key issue, that many of the responses raise, was that restorative justice should be more than just an add on to the Criminal Justice System, more than just another tool in the toolbox.

There are, of course, a number of other very important goals for the criminal justice system in addition to restoration. Punishment, public protection, the reform and rehabilitation of offenders and crime reduction are all clearly stated purposes of sentencing in the new Criminal Justice Act. But Restorative Justice does have a legitimate place alongside them: helping to meet the needs of victims, repairing harm, rebuilding relationships.

Restorative justice is a way of doing things that we need to get into the thinking and working of every agency and every sector.

A third key issue raised is about the respective roles and contribution of voluntary and statutory agencies in the delivery of restorative justice. A few people questioned whether the police should have a role – I certainly think they should.

Others argued for a distinct restorative justice service – independent of any existing CJS agency. Many respondents highlighted examples of existing successful practice of Restorative Justice within the Criminal Justice System.

The truth is, of course, that we don’t yet have all the answers – we’ll learn more as we go along, from the research commissioned by the Home Office as well as from projects on the ground. But what we do know for certain is that voluntary sector practitioners have been and will continue to be crucial to the development of Restorative Justice.

Along with the great majority of the responses, I welcome and celebrate the current diversity of provision. Restorative justice has grown up from the grass roots. It is innovatory – people are continuing to discover new ways of applying it, in care homes, in schools and prisons, to resolve disputes in the community, and to tackle anti-social behaviour.

This innovation should not be constrained or held back by making Restorative Justice the preserve of any one sector or organisation.

A further key issue emerging from the responses was the need for a broader understanding of Restorative Justice. Many identified this as fundamental to public confidence and success.

So we need to work together, in a co-ordinated way, to raise understanding of Restorative Justice – within all the Criminal Justice agencies and across the public as a whole. That doesn’t necessarily mean a big public information campaign. It’s probably too early for that and we need, as always to make sure that we have sufficient capacity in place to meet demand and expectation.

What will raise people’s awareness and appreciation of restorative justice – and gain their trust – is their own direct involvement in and experience of restorative processes. Hearing about it from people they know and trust and seeing it in action.

I know this from my own personal experience. Having read and heard about Restorative Justice I was already a supporter, but seeing at first hand, in Pentonville prison, a meeting between an offender and a victim really brought home to me what a powerful process it can be, and the kind of transformation it can bring about for all those involved.

So these are some of the issues that have come out of the consultation, together with a few of my own observations. As I said at the start, whilst it is still relatively young there is a momentum behind Restorative Justice now.

That momentum has come largely from local agencies, and from the dedication of practitioners applying RJ in their work – and in their everyday lives.

And perhaps this is the most important feature of Restorative Justice. It is not merely a process or a system – it represents a set of values that acknowledge harm but emphasise the need for reconciliation and the possibility of reform.

So thank you for your work, your commitment to and passionate belief in Restorative Justice and your contribution to the development of our overall strategy and policy.

I feel confident that we are really on to something and hope that you will continue to work with us – building a criminal justice system that meets the needs of victims, and has the trust of the community.