An Alliance Party Delegation has met with Assistant Chief Constable, Judith Gillespie, head of the Criminal Justice Division of the PSNI, to discuss the current draft Community-based Restorative Justice Protocols. It was clear that the new protocols will involve fundamental changes to the policies and practices of all existing schemes. Alliance believes that the current proposals mark a significant step forward, but that a number of changes remain necessary.
Speaking after the meeting, Alliance Party Justice Spokesperson, Stephen Farry stated:
“Alliance is determined not to treat the issue of restorative justice as a political football, but to give proper consideration to supporting community measures for dealing with low-level crime and anti-social behaviour that can complement the work of the police.”
We wanted to hear the police’s perspective on how these draft protocols could work in practice, and whether or not they were consistent with the police’s legal obligations to uphold the rule of law and to investigate crime.
It is clear that the police are clearly central to the current draft protocols. Indeed, the police are adamant that it simply cannot be any other way if they are to be involved.
Fundamentally, these protocols will require significant changes in the policies and practices of all existing restorative justice schemes, both Loyalist and Republican. This is not about legitimising what happens at present, but making clear what changes are required in return for formal state support and funding.
All criminal referrals must be brought to the attention of the police for consideration, further investigation and cross-referencing to other case-files. Any decision as to whether a community response can be taken forward will lie with the Public Prosecution Service.
Alliance nevertheless believes that further changes are required in three key areas. First, there must not be an opt-out that allows some schemes to avoid working directly with the police. All community schemes have a responsibility to foster support for the criminal justice system as a whole, not to undermine its legitimacy. Second, the protocols must be extended to cover non-criminal anti-social behaviour. Third, the NIO must formally sanction trainers and training for those operating CRJ schemes.
As demonstrated elsewhere in the world, there can be significant benefits derived from community restorative justice for both the offender and the victim.
Given the desire of some to entrench the position of paramilitaries within society or to bypass the police, the challenge in Northern Ireland is to ensure that any system of restorative justice reflects internationally agreed principles, respects human rights and contributes to respect for the rule of law.