The Alliance Party has said that while it supports Community Restorative Justice (CRJ) schemes in principle, the Government’s current proposals amount a system lacking significant public confidence. This view appears in the Party’s submission to the Northern Ireland Office’s draft guidelines on CRJ.
Commenting on the submission, Alliance Party Justice Spokesperson, Stephen Farry stated: “Alliance is not rejecting Community Restorative Justice out of hand, like some others seem intent on doing. But the protocols as they stand are deficient in a number of respects, and these weaknesses must be addressed by the Government if the community is to have any confidence in the schemes.
“Community restorative justice does have the capacity, if properly run, to make successful interventions that can provide a solution to low level criminal activity that is more sensitive to the needs of victim and offender.
“However, the Government must take on board the comments of the IMC in their latest report of some current alleged mispractices, and the dangers of people being coerced to participate in scheme either through actual or underhand threats.
“It is important to note that a different set of protocols, improved vastly from those which currently appear, would involve substantial changes in the policies and practices of all the existing schemes, both Republican and Loyalist in nature.
“In all circumstances, there must be no question of the emergence of CRJ as an alternative or a parallel justice system. The greatest flaw in the current proposals is the ability of some schemes to opt out of the working directly with the police. The role of the police in these protocols is fundamental, and these must be able to make decisions regarding referrals,
to collect evidence and to cross-reference with other cases.
“There is also an urgent need to extend the scrutiny and accountability of CRJ schemes from just criminal matters to other acts of anti-social behaviour. CRJ groups cannot set themselves up as the unofficial arbiters of what happens in certain communities. How CRJ groups conduct themselves in dealing with other matters should have a bearing on their overall credibility.
“Alliance is seeking a further meeting with the Criminal Justice Minister, David Hanson, to explore these issues, and to impress upon him the need for a fundamental review of the guidelines.”