Restorative justice plan 'puts victims at the centre of the system'

Mediator with teenager Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Victims find it helpful to be able to face the perpetrator and tell them the effects of their actions

Victims of crime should be able to face the offenders who harmed them, according to Scotland's justice minister.

Humza Yousaf wants victims to be able to tell offenders what effects their actions have had on them.

He says it will help victims recover and lead to a reduction in reoffending.

His new Restorative Justice Action Plan sets out aims to have the service widely available across Scotland by 2023.

Meetings are set up by mediators with the hope that those affected by crime, offending and harmful or concerning behaviours and those who have caused the harm can repair the harm that has been caused.

'Society wins'

It is something the justice secretary wishes he had access to himself.

He said: "I know from my own personal experience when I have been the victim of racial abuse, I would have liked to sit down with the offender and got them to understand the impact the crime has had on me and my family.

"I think it would have made a big difference.

"I want to get this right for the whole of Scotland. There is not one panacea to reduce reoffending on its own. This is part of a jigsaw to reduce reoffending and help victims. And if there are less victims, society wins."

Image caption Humza Yousaf would have liked to try restorative justice after becoming a victim of racial abuse

The plan identified four areas where work will have to be carried out to enable the plan to progress.

  • Training - No widely available training exists so third sectors may step in to expand provision and focus on specialist training for certain individuals and offence types.
  • Information Sharing - A lack of understanding and expertise in data protection legislation has made it difficult for services to share details on offenders and persons harmed, restricting restorative justice services.
  • Awareness - Individuals and communities are not aware of this option or how to access it.
  • Resources - There are no specific funding streams which limits provision.

'Voiceless and powerless'

Restorative justice is already being used successfully across Europe. Norway and Belgium have the most comprehensive systems of all the European jurisdictions examined by the Scottish government.

Those countries offer restorative justice at every stage in the criminal justice system and for any age and offence type.

Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland, Kate Wallace, said: "We believe that Scotland's restorative justice system must be voluntary, and have the wellbeing and protection of victims and witnesses of crime at its forefront. We are pleased that the Restorative Justice Action Plan recognises this. When used effectively, restorative justice has the potential to support some victims through their recovery journey."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mediators set up meetings between the offenders and those they have harmed

Gemma Fraser from Community Justice Scotland, who helped develop the action plan, said: "Everyone harmed by crime in Scotland has a right to experience justice in a meaningful way - however the system can often make victims of crime feel both voiceless and powerless over what has happened to them.

"Restorative justice allows victims to express the impact that harm has had on them, their family and community. Those who have offended are faced with the reality of this and asked to account for their actions and to payback in a significant way."

Joanna Shapland of the University of Sheffield, who chairs the Restorative Justice Forum, said: "Restorative Justice has been shown internationally to produce significant benefits and the plan sets out clear steps towards its further implementation in Scotland.

"We have worked closely with the Scottish government on both the guidance and the action plan and look forward to seeing these new developments come into being."

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