August 2 2014 Latest news:
Andrew Fitchett, Reporter
Friday, May 30, 2014
Fears over the misuse of restorative justice measures have been raised after the revelation that Norfolk Police have used informal agreements to deal with more than 7,000 crimes since 2010 – including almost 3,000 violent offences.
Community resolutions were introduced in 2008 by the Labour government to save on red tape for petty offences and address concerns over the criminalisation of young people for minor crimes.
The approach can involve restorative justice techniques, such as the offender apologising to the victim, paying compensation, fixing damage, or returning stolen goods. Guidance from Acpo advises that the measure should be used for “less serious offences”, including minor assaults without injury and low-level theft.
However, fears have been raised that officers have a tendency to turn to community resolutions too readily, as it saves paperwork and time. Community resolutions are still recorded as crimes, meaning there is no impact on crime figures.
The measures can be used by officers instead of prosecutions and can include an apology or compensation to the victim. The resolutions were introduced in order to cut down on police red tape, and prevent the criminalisation of young people.
But despite guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) telling officers that the resolutions should only be used for “less serious” offences, Norfolk officers have been using them in cases involving violence, sexual offences, fraud and criminal damage. Figures gained following a Freedom of Information request by the EDP show “community resolutions” – which involve the victims of crime – have been used in 4,362 cases since 2010, and “extended professional judgement” – which are settled just by officers – 3,205 times in the same period.
Violent crimes top the figures, with a combined total of 2,980 having been resolved without formal charges. Thefts total 2,680, and 1,521 instances of criminal damage have been resolved using the measures. Thirty cases settled in this way were sexual offences. The figures will heighten concerns that officers are turning to restorative justice techniques too readily in order to save paperwork and time, as staffing numbers are squeezed.
The Norfolk statistics follow criticism of community resolutions by Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, last year. She said cuts to officer numbers since 2010 meant that serious offenders were being let off as police forces faced increasing pressure.
But Stephen Bett, police and crime commissioner for Norfolk, stood by the methods and backed officers’ use of them. “I know there are strict rules over when and where such resolutions can be used and am reassured Norfolk Constabulary is acting in line with national guidelines. In terms of extended professional judgement, we have to trust those who are trained to make these judgements. I know of many victims who have been pleased with these style of resolutions which, of course, also prevent incidents ending up at court.”
A Norfolk Police spokesman said: “Crimes are still recorded, and only certain crimes are suitable to be detected through EPJ [extended professional judgement] – but the process is less bureaucratic and can create more capacity for local, proactive work, as well as delivering a quick victim-focused outcome.”
What do you think of Norfolk Police’s use of restorative justice? Email Andrew Fitchett via firstname.lastname@example.org