Tough on crime, but not so smart about it

Labour's dismissal of restorative justice jars with the party's core values

Related Topics

Some years ago, I was privileged to hear a speech by John
Sentamu, who was then Bishop of Birmingham, on the subject of restorative
, an approach to crime and punishment that involves the victim in the
process, encourages perpetrators to repair the damage they have caused, and
goes against the idea that justice relies principally on a form of retribution.

It was a moving and entirely convincing address by a man who went on to become the Archbishop of York, and, in a rather less godly career move, a columnist for The Sun newspaper. His reasoning certainly persuaded me, and there's a good deal of evidence to show that, by inspiring a dialogue between victim and offender, this system of justice gives the victim a greater sense of satisfaction, and decreases the incidence of repeat offending.

Long before the idea reached the developed world, the Maoris of New Zealand successfully employed this system as a way to maintain social cohesion and the stability of family groups. Anyway, it seems that, below the radar (and away from the thundering disapproval of right-wing commentators), a form of restorative justice has been in operation in Britain.

Police have been using “community resolutions” - an apology from the offender and/or compensation to the victim - in place of prosecutions or cautions in an effort to reduce the burden on the criminal justice system and to avoid criminalising many, many more citizens. Rather sensible, if you ask me.

The guidelines for police make it clear that these resolutions should be used for minor offences - where, for example, no physical injury has been inflicted - but, according to details obtained under Freedom of Information by the Labour Party, “community resolutions” are increasingly being used in more serious offences, such as violent crime.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, has been making quite a song and dance about this, saying “offenders who admit to serious and violent crimes...are increasingly being let off with no criminal record, no justice and not even a caution. That's bad for justice, bad for victims...”

But surely we don't know yet whether it's bad for justice. The point of this approach to dealing with crime is that it reduces repeat offending, which is good for society as a whole, and not just for the victims of individual offences. So Ms Cooper is making a judgement on the efficacy of this formula for dealing with crime while in possession of only one half of the equation.

I can understand why Labour have to postulate a tough stance on crime, but it makes no sense to undermine a system that they have in the recent past been fully behind, and would appear to be in sympathy with their core values.

Only last year, shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan told the Labour Conference that “evidence shows our battle to lower re-offending can be helped by the use of restorative justice” and the party's last manifesto pledged a law to give any crime victim access to this form of reparation. So it is especially disappointing to hear Ms Cooper taking a short-term view and scoring political points when she should be supporting a more forward-thinking approach to law and order.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own