Reflecting on my tenure as Justice Secretary I wish I had pushed harder on restorative justice. I was supportive of RJ as its termed and was kept informed of progress. However, what’s clear to me now’s that there’s a difference between what a Minister prioritises and what they just support or approve of. The former will be delivered but the latter will often just trundle along. That’s not a criticism of the staff in the departments, just an assessment of how the system operates.
Briefed regularly and indicating my full backing but not having laid it down as a priority, it never went far. Yet I saw how beneficial it could be. I recall two young lads who’d stupidly put some liquid through an old lady’s door. Just a laugh or so they thought but they destroyed precious family pictures which could never be restored. Meeting and understanding the impact of their actions was more shaming than any court appearance and the weight of guilt greater than any fine or community service. Likewise, a sense of understanding was achieved for the victim and an opportunity to explain the impact greater than any letter written to the court.
There are many more situations where restorative justice is far better than a court. A proper understanding and assurance of future behaviour provided for the victim with a life not ruined by a conviction for the offender, stigmatised for ever. Much more can and should be done with it.
So, you’d expect me to support Scottish Government plans to expand the concept. But I don’t or at least I’ve a huge caveat on them. Of course, using it more often is something to welcome. However, the extension of the scheme to domestic violence and sexual offences is just wrong.
There are offences that simply aren’t suitable for RJ and offenders who are deeply manipulative. I share the concerns of the experts who have been publicly voicing concerns about these plans. They’re in the frontline with both victims and offenders and know what they’re talking about.
By all means expand RJ that’s a good thing to do but not to all categories of crime and certainly not these.