Restorative justice has become mainstream following the establishment of youth offender panels last year under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. It is no longer just another possible option available in some places at various points in the criminal justice process. However, there is no consensus over a definition. Tony Marshall defines restorative justice as 'a process whereby parties with a stake in a specific offense collectively resolve how to deal with the aftermath of the offense and its implications for the future'. More recent Home Office research comments on the 'variability and changeability' of approaches in seven different schemes; the aims of practitioners vary and there is widespread uncertainty as to what the term means, both in theory and practice. There has been considerable enthusiasm about exploring the possibilities of victim/offender contact - which may result in young people seeing the consequences of their actions, accepting responsibility for them, and being given assistance to reintegrate into society.
[...] Conclusion International experience teaches us that the dissemination of information and good practice is crucial for the purposes of monitoring and standards within restorative justice. Although the Youth Justice Board has started to play a role in this respect, preliminary inquiries reveal a striking lack of knowledge about what is happening countrywide. There seems to be little interaction between theory and practice. there is a current suggestion to start an Institute of mediation that would provide a dialogue between theory and practice, as well as play a role in monitoring and the on going discussion of standards. [...]
[...] If nothing else, the community - in the broadest sense - has a general interest in fairness and consistency of approach. Because outcomes depend on agreements reached between offender and victim, they vary according to circumstances, including whether victims are particularly lenient or particularly demanding. As we have seen, because of pressure to agree to restorative initiatives , one offender may end up being treated very differently from another who has committed a similar offense but has a more (or less) demanding victim. [...]
[...] The Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporated the Convention into domestic law, thus has important consequences for the extent and manner of integrating restorative justice into our criminal justice system. One main criticism of restorative justice is that it fails to provide adequate protection for individual rights. Classic models use informal processes of negotiation and mediation, which are designed to resolve conflicts arising out of criminal offense s in a way that is constructive for all parties. The values of restorative justice are based on harmony and the good of the community as well as benefits for the parties. [...]
[...] The recent Halliday report on sentencing , with its emphasis on the abolition of short-term sentences and the development of community alternatives, presents an opportunity to encourage the development of restorative options and makes the case for adequate resources for the facilities, such as drugs counseling or other means needed to tackle the causes of offending . Both restorative justice and human rights requirements demand that sentences have a purpose. Approaches to reparation need more attention; in particular there is a consensus between those working on the ground that reparation should be agreed as far as possible between the parties, rather than being imposed by a court - thus undermining the important principle of voluntarism, meaning that the offender is able to exercise a degree of free will, so that he or she can choose to put things right, rather than have this imposed by a court. [...]
[...] This has been challenged following the implementation of the Human Rights Act; and the Court of session's decision suggests that lack of legal representation at children's hearings could, in certain cases, amount to a breach of Article 6 of the Convention, and that panels may have the discretion to grant such representation - even though the legislation is silent on this question. This decision might lead to applications for legal representation before youth offender panels in cases where there are exceptional difficulties, such as serious emotional or intellectual problems which would leave young people at a significant disadvantage. [...]
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