Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs First Report

1  Introduction

1. Community Restorative Justice (CRJ) is a process based in the community in which low level crime[1] and anti-social behaviour is addressed through mediation. CRJ schemes have operated in Northern Ireland since 1996 under two main umbrella organisations: Northern Ireland Alternatives (based in mainly loyalist areas); and Community Restorative Justice Ireland (based in predominantly republican areas).[2] The schemes emerged in response to a growth in "punishment attacks" carried out by republican and loyalist paramilitary organisations on young people who had allegedly engaged in anti-social behaviour.[3] The stated primary aim of the schemes was to provide a non violent alternative to such attacks through restorative justice activity in which anti-social behaviour is addressed through a process of mediation between perpetrators and victims.

2. In addition to restorative justice, the work of CRJ schemes involves the resolution of neighbourhood and family disputes, the diversion of young people from possible offending behaviour, and crime prevention. It is important to stress that all the schemes are voluntary, funded mainly by charitable sources, and currently operate without any formal regulation.

3. In March 2000, the Criminal Justice Review Group, which had been set up following the Belfast Agreement signed on Good Friday in 1998, recommended that community based restorative justice schemes could play a role in addressing "the types of low-level crime that most commonly concerns local communities", but that safeguards were required.[4] The report made clear that the schemes should be accredited and subject to standards laid down by Government in respect of how they dealt with criminal activity, staff training, due process and proportionality. It recommended that CRJ schemes should receive referrals from a statutory criminal justice agency, rather than from within the community, with the police being informed of all referrals.

4. In December 2005, the Government issued "Guidelines" for public consultation to govern the operation of community restorative justice (CRJ) schemes.[5] The consultation ran until 24 February 2006. In response to concerns raised, the Government amended the Guidelines and relaunched them as a "draft Protocol" in September 2006.[6] Public consultation on the draft Protocol ran until 13th December 2006.

5. Given the seriousness of the concerns raised in the responses to the Guidelines, the Committee decided on 12th October 2006 to undertake an inquiry into the draft Protocol, specifically to examine:

"the provisions of the draft Protocol and the responses of interested parties to the Protocol."

6. We are grateful to the Rt Hon Lord Clyde, former Justice Oversight Commissioner, Mr Kit Chivers, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, Mr Brian McCaughey, Chief Probation Officer, Mr Ronnie Spence, Chairman of the Probation Board for Northern Ireland, Ms Olwen Lyner, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO), Mr Pat Conway, Director of Services, NIACRO, and Dr Duncan Morrow, Chief Executive of the Community Relations Council for giving oral evidence to the Committee in Westminster.

7. On 4th December 2006, we visited, and held informal meetings with, two CRJ schemes in Northern Ireland: IMPACT in Kilcooley, Bangor, a project of Northern Ireland Alternatives; and CRJ Ireland in West Belfast. We are very grateful to Mr Mark Gordon, Manager of Kilcooley Community Forum, Mr Jim Martin, Senior Project Officer, IMPACT, and Mr Jim Rea, Assistant Project Officer, IMPACT, for making arrangements for our visit to Kilcooley and for the accounts they provided of the project's work. We are also grateful to the project volunteers, the local PSNI Inspector and Community Beat Officer, and community representatives, who attended the informal meeting, and to the young people we met who told us about their experiences of IMPACT. We are also very grateful to Mr Jim Auld, Director of CRJ Ireland and Mr Harry Maguire, Training officer, CRJ Ireland, for arranging our visit to their premises in West Belfast. We also thank the project officers and volunteers, the victims, offenders and others who had engaged in the schemes who kindly gave up their time to meet us and to discuss their experiences of community restorative justice. Both visits were invaluable to the Committee.

8. During our visit to Northern Ireland, we also took formal evidence from Mr Tom Winston, Manager, and Ms Debbie Watters, Training Officer, Northern Ireland Alternatives, and Mr Jim Auld, Director, and Mr Harry Maguire, Training Officer, CRJ Ireland, Sir Hugh Orde, Chief Constable of the PSNI, and Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris. We are grateful to all those who gave public oral evidence to the Committee in Northern Ireland. The day after our return, we also took formal evidence from Mr David Hanson, MP, Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office with responsibility for Criminal Justice. Before concluding our deliberations on this Report, we had an informal evidence session with Dr Garret FitzGerald, former Taoiseach; no detailed notes were made, but Dr FitzGerald presented and spoke to a paper that is printed together with the other evidence that we received.[7]

1   The question of defining "low-level crime" is discussed at paragraphs 49 to 55 Back

2   Community Restorative Justice Ireland was formally set up in 1999. Back

3   An evaluation of the work of CRJ Ireland and Northern Ireland Alternatives in promoting non violent alternatives to paramilitary punishment attacks has been carried out by Professor Harry Mika, Queen's University Belfast, and is due to be published soon. Lady Sylvia Hermon was interviewed as part of the research for this evaluation Back

4   Review of the Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland, para 9.98, p 216. The Review Group was charged with conducting a wide ranging review of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland (other than policing and certain aspects of the emergency legislation). The Group was made up of four civil servants and five independent assessors. Back

5   Northern Ireland Office Consultation on draft Guidelines for Community based Restorative Justice Schemes December 2005 Back

6   See further paragraph 30 Back

7   Ev 104-106 Back

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Prepared 25 January 2007