Belfast Telegraph

Call for restorative justice review

Only one case has been referred by the community restorative justice system to Police Service of Northern Ireland since 2007, it has been disclosed.

Rules governing schemes in Northern Ireland should be reviewed, an independent report said. Referrals to the PSNI require an admission of guilt and often clients of Community Restorative Justice Ireland (CRJI) are reluctant to engage with police in this way.

Despite this, Criminal Justice Inspection officials found positive developments and said early intervention in matters like anti-social behaviour, which may not constitute crimes, helped prevent problems from spiralling.

Deputy chief inspector Brendan McGuigan said: "Inspectors also found that since securing accreditation only one case had been referred by CRJI to the PSNI under the government protocol, which highlights a need for the current protocol to be reviewed."

The protocol was established to codify the relationship of practitioners with the police. Mediators had hitherto operated informally, bringing offenders and victims together to repair their differences, often in areas formerly dominated by republican or loyalist paramilitaries.

Practitioners such as the Belfast coordinator of CRJI, Jim McCarthy, have criticised the protocol as too restrictive because it requires an admission of guilt. They are reluctant to investigate the claims of those they work with, believing this should be left to the police. Often their working-class clients are reluctant to go to the PSNI.

The 19-page report, Community Restorative Justice Ireland: A Follow-Up Review found that despite four recommendations being fully achieved and one partially achieved, several issues remain to be addressed.

Mr McGuigan said: "Some political representatives remain critical of the schemes and argue that key figures within the schemes are politically partisan, a perception which is fuelled by the inability of CRJI to attract individuals from different political backgrounds to join the management committees of its community-based restorative justice schemes. We would encourage CRJI to continue to strive to address this issue."

He urged CRJI to undertake additional work around its complaints policy to ensure it is effective, efficient and meets standards expected of a voluntary or community organisation working within the criminal justice sector.

A Department of Justice spokesman said: "The department intends to initiate a review in the autumn."

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