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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 22 May 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Police Call Handling, One Minute’s Silence, Police Call Handling, Disability Employment Gap, Presiding Officer’s Ruling, Decision Time, Restorative Justice


Contents


Restorative Justice

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on S5M-11174, in the name of Liam Kerr, on increasing awareness of restorative justice within the criminal justice system. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it considers the importance of restorative justice in complementing the traditional criminal justice system in Scotland; understands that the process of restorative justice aims to bring those harmed by crime, including in the North East Scotland region, together with those responsible for the harm to participate actively in addressing or repairing the harm that was caused, with the help of trained facilitators; notes that this can involve direct and indirect initiatives, such as face-to-face meetings, shuttle dialogue or police restorative warnings; understands that this enables everyone affected by a particular incident to find a positive and tailored way forward, often including a chance for an apology to be offered in response to a crime committed; recognises what it sees as the benefits of restorative justice, such as empowering the victim by supporting them through their recovery and, it understands, a proven reduction in reoffending rates; commends the Restorative Justice Forum (Scotland) for the work that it has done to develop and raise awareness of restorative practices in Scotland notes that restorative justice is not an alternative to a criminal trial but an approach that operates alongside the traditional justice system; understands that, during three pilot schemes in England, 83% of victims offered restorative justice wanted to take part; is aware of concerns that Scotland has been relatively slow to embrace a similar approach, and notes the calls for the Scottish Government to further champion the process of restorative justice, with the hope that Scotland can embrace a similar system of criminal justice.

17:06  

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I am very pleased to bring forward this members’ business debate today, and to thank all those from across the chamber who added their support to the motion, either by directly supporting it or by allowing this important matter to be debated.

I titled the motion “Increasing Awareness of Restorative Justice within the Criminal Justice System” and, if nothing else, the debate will achieve that increase in awareness.

What is restorative justice? At times, it can feel as though we are trying to empower those who break the law more than we try to empower victims. One former police officer’s comments are worth citing in that regard:

“Common feedback from victims and witnesses was the feeling that they were ‘on the outside looking in’ and once they had given their statement, they often heard nothing further until receiving a citation to attend court. In many cases this came as a surprise. They had expected to be contacted when the alleged offender had been traced and spoken to in order that they be involved in the decision making process, given that they are the ones who have been most affected by the incident.”

The concept of restorative justice seeks to address that feedback.

The Scottish universities insight institute defines restorative justice as:

“a process that brings together those harmed by crime and those responsible for the harm to safely discuss the harm and how it might be set right.”

In essence, it is voluntary communication—on both sides—between the offender and the victim, which takes place in a safe manner and environment and in which the offender must be prepared to admit responsibility but, crucially, there is no need for victims to forgive.

Joanna Shapland, chair of the Scottish restorative justice forum, says that the process allows victims and their families to ask questions that will be familiar to all of us who have been a victim of crime, such as, “Why me?”, “Are you sorry for what you did?”, and “What are you doing to change your behaviour?”, and to look the offender in the eye and receive an apology.

Restorative justice includes victims in the process that follows the aftermath of a crime and allows them to confront offenders with the human impact of their wrongdoing. We must be clear that, crucially, none of that replaces a formal trial to establish the guilt of the offender.

Restorative justice works. An academic evaluation of three schemes in England found that up to 83 per cent of victims to whom restorative justice was offered wanted to take part. Those who took part appreciated the offender meeting them and answering questions, and the opportunity to receive a direct apology, which is not normally possible in criminal justice processes. An outcome agreement—that is, an agreement between the parties for appropriate restoration—was reached in 98 per cent of cases.

International research consistently shows very high rates of participant satisfaction, with typically more than 80 per cent of respondents saying that they found the process helpful, are pleased that they did it and would recommend it to others. It is better for the victims, and it is better for society.

There is something else here. Scotland’s reconviction rate has barely changed in 17 years. According to University of Sheffield research, restorative justice processes significantly reduce the frequency of reoffending. Figures from New Zealand over a five-year period show that the rate of reoffending was 15 per cent lower among offenders who took part in restorative justice and that they committed 26 per cent fewer offences overall than an appropriately constituted control group.

The principles appear to be sound, but we are not doing restorative justice to any great degree. Last year, the Scottish Government published its “Guidance for the Delivery of Restorative Justice in Scotland”. It is good guidance and I welcome it, but guidance does not work unless it is used. When asked what restorative justice is, nearly half of local authorities either did not know or supplied an answer that substantially contradicts the Scottish Government’s definition. Only five of our 32 local councils offer any sort of restorative justice service for adults.

The cabinet secretary’s predecessor, Kenny MacAskill, said of restorative justice that there has been a “failure to take action” as

“a natural consequence of it not being made a Ministerial priority”.

I might be wrong, but I think that that is political speak for “I ignored this when I was a minister”.

Steve Kirkwood and Mary Munro, academics at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde respectively, are clear that

“the relative neglect in Scotland is rather odd given developments of restorative justice in other parts of the UK, across Europe and in jurisdictions across the world.”

We need to get these services up and running. That is the first step towards creating a justice system that puts victims at its heart. That means having trained professionals available to facilitate the communication, and informing victims that the service is available and that they can access it.

However, we also need to be clear what restorative justice is not there for. Of the five councils in Scotland that offer restorative justice, three do it as a diversion from prosecution. I find that disappointing. Joanna Shapland is clear that restorative justice cannot replace a formal trial. In my view, she is right. Involving victims in the justice process is not a substitute for punishing offenders adequately for the wrongs that they have committed.

However, victims can be included as part of and alongside the existing justice process. One sheriff has very fairly asked why victims are not part of community payback review hearings. Everyone is represented around that table except the person who has suffered the most from the crime. Would the public not have more confidence in community sentences if victims were able to input into the punishment? What if the unpaid work that is carried out by offenders on CPOs had more of a connection with the original offence, so that lawbreakers properly understood the impact of their crimes? Further, what if social workers writing reports for courts and hearings had a better idea of the victim’s experience and whether they wanted to meet the offender and pose their own questions in the hope of achieving some kind of closure?

That is why I wanted a debate on restorative justice. We can send a message out from the chamber that when a crime is committed, we will not forget the victim—the individual whose life is changed, often irreparably, through no fault of their own. If we care about victims, we will make them an essential part of putting things right, and we do that by increasing awareness of restorative justice within the criminal justice system.

17:13  

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

I thank Liam Kerr for bringing this important subject to the chamber. I have two declarations to make: I am the Parliamentary liaison officer for the justice portfolio; and I am a registered social worker with the Scottish Social Services Council and was a worker in the justice system in the last four years of my practice before becoming an MSP.

I will start by picking up on some of the points that Liam Kerr made. While I was working in the justice system, I was able to see the value of restorative justice. I would say that it worked very well, particularly with young people, on whom there was a particular focus. I witnessed at first hand young people having a change in attitude to their offending and to the restorative justice process, even though they might have been a bit sceptical initially. I know that this is not the usual outcome, but there was even one occasion on which I witnessed two young people becoming fast friends through the process.

We know that restorative justice works and that it can be effective. I agree with the points that Liam Kerr made in that regard, but I would like to pick up on his view that there is no awareness of it. When I worked as a social worker, I was extremely aware of it, as were all my colleagues and, I imagine, everyone who worked in the justice system. There is a wee bit of flexibility in the community payback order to do some work in relation to restorative justice, but an assessment has to be made of whether it is appropriate, because that is not always the case—it certainly would not be appropriate always to have victims in community payback order meetings.

However, I accept the general point that there is perhaps more that could be done at an earlier stage. When I was doing criminal justice social work reports, my colleagues and I would take into account aspects of the attitude towards the offence and perhaps also the victim’s view. More could perhaps be done along those lines, although there is a degree of flexibility.

I will talk a wee bit about local good practice. In 2013, North Lanarkshire Council’s restorative justice team, with funding from Airdrie and Coatbridge round table, facilitated the renovation of a school that had been vandalised. That work was done with offenders who had been through the community justice system, so it was a really good example. Maureen Hughes, the restorative justice service manager at the time, said that

“three out of five people on schemes like these don’t reoffend”.

That is a pretty powerful quote, and it made for quite a lot of good local news.

I do not think that the point about the value of restorative justice is lost on the Scottish Government. The minister will speak later about the publication, in October last year, of “Guidance for the Delivery of Restorative Justice in Scotland”, which outlined the key principles of restorative justice and guidelines for utilising it. I am pleased that there is a clear commitment to supporting its delivery.

I accept that only a small number of local authorities are using restorative justice, having identified it as such. However, I would say that most local authorities are doing it. The local authority that I worked for probably features among the statistics that have been mentioned, yet we were clearly doing restorative justice. There is perhaps a wee bit of work to be done to tighten up the statistics and so on.

I am running out of time. This is an area in which I have a lot of interest. I will keep a close eye on how things are going, and I am pleased with the steps that have been taken on the matter nationally.

17:17  

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I, too, thank Liam Kerr for securing the debate. It is extremely useful, particularly in the context of the current wider justice debate. Although I do not have any particular interests to declare, I should probably mention that I studied philosophy as an undergraduate, so if I waffle on a bit about the concept of justice, members can blame my choice of studies at university. That is important, however, because we are absolutely right to explore the justice system, to examine whether what we are doing actually works and to consider what we can do to make it better.

We are making process. There is a presumption against short sentences and a much greater focus on the underlying causes of crime, rather than a concentration on identifying criminals and criminality. We are also adopting a focus on what works—we are looking for practices that reduce levels of offending in the first place, and of reoffending. That is absolutely right, because the traditional model of justice, which focuses on punishment, is defective. The old model, which involved retribution, correction and punishment as deterrents, is fundamentally flawed. It does not work: first, because it assumes that the person who is committing a crime is acting rationally and, secondly, because those people are very often victims in the first place. They are people who have suffered adverse childhood experiences or other tragedies in their lives. The idea that punishment is the way to deal with that is fundamentally flawed.

Justice is about balance. Liam Kerr made the very good point that the victim can sometimes get lost, so we need to be careful not to treat justice as being just about correcting behaviour, because it is about achieving balance. After all, Lady Justice carries not only a sword; she also carries scales. Restoring balance is fundamentally important, and it is fundamentally what restorative justice is about. It is about the victim, but it is also about the perpetrator confronting their behaviour, and understanding its causes and effects. That is just as important an element of restorative justice as the victim’s perspective.

There can be no better example of that than the case of Jay Beatty, which came to light at the end of last year. An 11 year old with Down’s syndrome, Jay was part of Celtic’s celebrations back in 2014. However, he then suffered appalling abuse online, on social media. As part of the steps that were subsequently taken, Jay met the person who was behind the attacks. According to his father, there was a “powerful” and “emotional” exchange, and the perpetrator fundamentally realised what he had done when he came face to face with his victim. That was a powerful demonstration that such steps are beneficial not just for the victim, but can show the perpetrator the real consequences. That two-way element of restorative justice is very important.

We must look at how we can move forward and confront some home truths. We would like to be progressive in advancing criminal justice policy, but in this country we still put an awful lot of people away in prison. According to the Council of Europe, Scotland has 584 entries to prison per 100,000 of the population, which far outstrips the European average of 167. Even England and Wales is down at around 197. We need to confront that. Why do we in Scotland put so many people in prison, despite all our efforts and despite everything that we have done? Restorative justice is one element, but we must look more broadly at how we can tackle the issue and alter a flawed model of criminal justice.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I do not think that you waffled at all, Mr Johnson.

17:21  

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I, too, congratulate Liam Kerr on bringing the matter to the chamber. There are many differences of opinion between me and the Conservative Party, but when he asked me to sign the motion, I thought that this is a subject that is worthy of debate. I have enjoyed his and other speeches, so far.

I will talk to some of the wording of the motion. It is important that the motion speaks of

“the importance of restorative justice in complementing”

the justice system. The motion is also right to point out that there is not one model; each individual case should be dealt with on its merits in terms of the wellbeing of the victim and the wellbeing of the accused.

The motion also talks about the

“aims to bring those harmed by crime ... together with those responsible”

for crime. Of course, it is very important that the engagement is appropriate and does not compound difficulties for either party—especially the victim. For that reason—again, sticking with the motion—we talk about the use of “trained facilitators” and their role in

“direct and indirect initiatives, such as face-to-face meetings, shuttle dialogue”,

and one about which I should particularly declare an interest, given my past career, which is “police restorative warnings”. The most powerful tool of a police officer in Scotland is not their CS incapacitant spray, rigid handcuffs or, as some have, a firearm. It is the power of discretion and the power to exercise that discretion wisely and proportionately. When the motion talks about

“a positive and tailored way forward”,

that is the direction in which we should go. Daniel Johnson and others have talked about the direction of travel and the presumption against short sentences. Important words, again from the motion, are the

“chance for an apology to be offered in response to ... crime”.

It is not only the victim who wants that chance. Most of our crime is committed by young men and most of those young men are under the influence of drink or drugs at the time. Given that, they are only too ready to apologise the next day, when it becomes apparent what they have done.

I will go on to another phrase in the motion: “empowering the victim”. That is very important, because the victim must be in charge of the option. I will not repeat the statistics, but I will repeat the phrase that Liam Kerr used:

“it is better for the victims”.

It is evidenced, and that is very important. I am a member of the Justice Committee, which struggles with varying statistics and competing opinions on what is and is not good. Hard empirical evidence is important.

Restorative justice is not available everywhere, which is an issue, but we know that not everything is available to everyone who hands down sentences. In Moray, in my region, the youth justice team works with young offenders aged 18 and is aware of the Scottish youth justice plan, as I saw on their website this afternoon. Their key objectives are

“to reduce youth offending and the impact of this behaviour on communities throughout Moray.”

Of course, victims are all members of the community in Moray. The service provides a lengthy list of programmes, including acceptable behaviour contracts, an anger management programme, a safer lives programme and an independent living programme. It also has an intensive support and monitoring service for young people who have the potential to find themselves in secure accommodation.

This is an opportunity that dovetails with others. Where I disagree with my colleague Liam Kerr is that I see restorative justice as a diversion from and an alternative to prosecution. It is a positive option. However, like anything else, it has to be used proportionately. The wellbeing of the accused has to be a factor—not least because many perpetrators are under the influence of drink and/or drugs at the time of the offence—and the welfare of the victim should be at the forefront. It is very clear that restorative justice is not for every victim.

17:25  

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I join members in congratulating Liam Kerr on making the debate possible. He was right to emphasise the importance of raising awareness.

I also congratulate the other speakers in the debate. Having taken on the role of justice spokesperson for my party, I have long since realised that one of the key planks of the role is paying regular tribute to my predecessor, Alison McInnes. In this instance, that is very much merited because she was the MSP who lodged the amendment to what is now the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 that gave rise to the guidance that was published at the end of 2017. I also pay tribute to John Finnie, whose little local difficulty with his previous party’s members perhaps released him to vote in favour of that amendment at stage 2, and to the Government, which had a majority at that time but did not, to its credit, seek to reverse the amendment at stage 3. That has been reflected in today’s debate, which—if it does nothing else—amplifies and underscores the extent to which we have moved on over the period. There is better understanding of restorative justice—what it is and is not, and how it fits in the wider context of what we want to achieve through our criminal justice system, as Daniel Johnson said.

Restorative justice is not, as had previously been assumed, some sort of soft option. It is an option—in some cases, it is a hard and challenging option. As Alison McInnes pointed out when she moved the amendment that I mentioned,

“Restorative justice services can assist victims to overcome their experiences and provide a form of accountability and a forum in which to receive an apology”

and, at the same time, it

“can enable those who have committed crimes to reflect on their actions, take personal responsibility, appreciate the harm that they have caused and start to make amends. That can prove key to the rehabilitation of both parties.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 12 November 2013; c 3608.]

I know that restorative justice is felt to be particularly effective in youth justice cases, but not exclusively in such cases.

It is also worth recalling that Alison McInnes’s amendment reflected article 12 of the European Union victims directive, which stipulates that

“Member States shall facilitate the referral of cases, as appropriate to restorative justice services, including through the establishment of procedures or guidelines on the conditions for such referral.”

The directive maintains that victims who choose to participate should have access to safe and competent restorative justice services, but that is not yet happening enough. Although progress has been made and there is better understanding, the benefits are not being properly realised through slow and patchy progress.

If Alison McInnes were in the chamber now, as well as my not sparing her blushes, she might also regret the time that it has taken for the guidance to be produced—although as Liam Kerr rightly pointed out, the guidance is a positive move. I welcome its contents.

Back in 2013, Kenny MacAskill declined the opportunities that could have been set up by short-life working groups, thinking that they might hold things back. Instead, he wanted to meet Alison McInnes and other stakeholders in his office, confident that swifter progress could be made that way. Therefore, it is a bit disappointing that it has taken three years for the guidance to be produced. However, there is now an opportunity to press on.

Steve Kirkwood and Mary Munro from the University of Edinburgh were quoted earlier. I note that they recently observed in Scottish Justice Matters that, despite political support, which has been very evident again this evening,

“there are still too few services offering restorative justice to victims and offenders. Those that exist tend to be for younger people who have committed ‘lower tariff’ offences: and some activity that is labelled ‘restorative justice’, is not.”

We can take some reassurance from the tone of tonight’s debate. As Liam Kerr said at the outset, the debate will help to raise awareness, but we have some way to go in realising restorative justice’s full potential—as we would all wish to do—for victims and for those who offend or are likely to reoffend. I, again, thank Liam Kerr for allowing us this opportunity.

17:30  

Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

I say to Liam McArthur that I am very confident that, one day, someone else will stand up in the chamber and compliment his efforts in the justice brief.

As other members have done, I thank Liam Kerr for bringing the motion to the chamber and affording myself and other members the opportunity to talk about this important issue. I have already enjoyed having the opportunity to listen to others, which is more important than me talking about it. We have heard a number of considered contributions from across the chamber. Although there will be no philosophy here, I have enjoyed listening to the different takes. It is important to remember that, whatever political differences exist between the parties on justice issues, there is a lot of common ground, and this is a good example of where we can build consensus and improve everyone’s experience of the criminal justice system.

Restorative justice provides the opportunity for a victim of crime—I was interested in John Finnie’s point about the opportunities that it offers for offenders, too—to experience justice in a comprehensive and different way, rather than through the prosecution and sentencing process alone. It allows the offender to face up fully to the consequences of their actions and better understand the process that led them there in the first place. The evidence from elsewhere around the world shows that restorative justice is so successful, because, rather than simply focusing on punishment, it allows for reflection. Unlike mediation, restorative justice does not offer a moral level playing field, but recognises that a wrong has been done. For that reason, it is a victim-led process but one that the offender needs to be part of and drive, too.

We have heard examples of restorative justice being used effectively. International research has shown that more than 80 per cent of participants in restorative justice initiatives found the process helpful. I do not think that there would be the same figure in relation to other criminal justice proceedings. Therefore, it is a little bit disappointing—I am not seeking to make a big point of it—that Scotland seems to be lagging behind, certainly in some areas. I note Fulton MacGregor’s point about his constituency and past experiences but, as a member representing a more rural community, I know that there is patchy provision across many aspects of criminal justice. That is, in part, inevitable, but the lack of provision is unhelpful and, with more support and focus, it could be addressed.

Another point that I want to draw on relates to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service inquiry. When I was a member of the Justice Committee, we heard a lot of evidence about the breakdown in communication. If restorative justice has any benefit, the key benefit that I would single out is the ability to start a dialogue and address misinformation.

Obviously, restorative justice will not be for everyone, but it is a forum that sits alongside the formal trial process. It is not right for it to be used in every case and it is not intended to necessarily always replace prosecution and sentencing. However, we should recognise that prosecution and sentencing are only one dimension in achieving justice for victims and rehabilitation for offenders.

17:34  

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I congratulate Liam Kerr on bringing the debate, and I commend the principles of restorative justice that he described. As we have heard, it can be tempting to think of restorative justice as an alternative to action under the existing justice system, but I agree with Liam Kerr that we should resist that temptation. The experience of existing alternatives to prosecution suggests that restorative justice cannot be based on good will alone; restitution needs to be enforceable and that principle must also apply in future.

Requiring offenders to meet their victims and to apologise for their crimes can encourage them to face up to the consequences of their actions, perhaps make them think twice about committing another crime, and help to reduce reoffending overall. However, restorative justice is equally important for victims. Their recovery can be helped by the knowledge that offenders have paid a price for their crimes and paid their debt to society, whether that be through a community sentence or financial compensation to the victims.

By contrast, when victims do not see justice being done, measures that are intended to deliver restorative justice can undermine their faith in the justice system. For example, my constituent Michelle Gavin has had that experience. Two years ago, she was the victim of damage to her property when a man entered her garden. The bill ran into hundreds of pounds. The Crown Office made the apparently reasonable decision to offer the offender the option of paying compensation direct to his victim so that the offender need not be taken to court and the victim would benefit from a form of restorative justice.

Two years later, with not a penny paid, Michelle Gavin has had cause to regret accepting that fiscal compensation offer. The offender has not paid. The Crown is effectively unable to do anything about it. The offender has been arrested on warrant, detained in custody and taken to court for non-payment not once, but three times. On each occasion, the justice of the peace has set new payment terms and told the offender that he should pay the compensation, but to no avail.

If a fine had been imposed by the courts, fines enforcement officers employed by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service would be able to take action but, because it was a fiscal compensation offer, fines enforcement officers have no effective sanction. Critically, offenders who have received a fiscal compensation offer are under no obligation to complete a declaration of income form. Without that, fines enforcement officers cannot know whether offenders are in work or on benefits, they cannot identify bank accounts, or arrest wages, benefits or savings. If a fines enforcement officer encourages an offender to provide such information on a voluntary basis, and the offender’s defence agent does not, the outcome, sadly, is all too predictable.

Not only that, but when it comes to fines and compensation offers that have been issued by fiscals, courts cannot impose an alternative sentence as they would for fines that have been imposed by a court, such as a community payback order, so there is no incentive for the offender to pay up.

In a case such as Michelle Gavin’s, an effort to achieve restorative justice without the full powers of enforcement that are available under the traditional justice system has done the opposite of what was intended. In such a case, the victim loses faith in the justice system, the offender does not require to change their behaviour, and justice is not seen to be done. As we go further down the road of restorative justice, as I strongly believe that we should, we need to learn those lessons in order to achieve the desired results.

17:38  

The Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs (Annabelle Ewing)

I, too, congratulate Liam Kerr on securing this debate on restorative justice, and I thank all members for their interesting contributions.

During the past decade, Scotland has become a safer place, with less crime and better support for victims. Restorative justice offers us an opportunity to build on that progress. Restorative justice can provide victims with the chance to have their voices heard and their questions answered. It can also help to tackle the likelihood of someone being drawn into further offending. It is a particularly powerful tool when it is used to address the behaviour of young people, who can learn so much from a dialogue with those who have been harmed by their actions. That can lead them to a route out of crime and away from the revolving door of the justice system. However, we are keen that the main benefit is felt by the victims of crime, giving them an opportunity to communicate the impact on their lives and to regain some control.

Our vision is to have high-quality restorative justice services available across Scotland; for the needs and interests of the victims to be at the very heart of the restorative justice process, to ensure that further harm is avoided; and to build public awareness and understanding of what restorative justice is and the benefits that it can deliver, as has been referred to.

As a step towards achieving that vision, we published “Guidance for the Delivery of Restorative Justice in Scotland” in October last year. The guidance was developed in partnership with a range of stakeholders, most notably the members of the restorative justice forum. Members include Police Scotland, Sacro and Victim Support Scotland. I thank forum members for their contribution and for their role in championing restorative justice over the years.

The guidance is aimed at practitioners and facilitators; it sets out the principles that need to be followed in a restorative justice process. A key principle is that participation in the process must be voluntary for both the victim and the person who has caused the harm. That is an important point, which is worth stressing. We want to raise awareness of restorative justice, but we need to do so in a manner that recognises that there is no obligation on either party to participate.

Now that the guidance has been published, we plan to consult by the end of this year on an order under section 5 of the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014, to prescribe which bodies must have regard to it. In addition to publishing the new guidance document, we want to get a better understanding of the current provision of restorative justice in local areas throughout Scotland. We have therefore surveyed local authority community and youth justice teams to investigate how restorative justice is being delivered and to help to identify any barriers that may be hindering its use. We aim to publish our survey findings before the summer recess and we hope that they will address some of the points that have been made tonight on that very subject.

There is evidence that good work is already under way in a number of areas. For example, stakeholders in Aberdeen are working with Community Justice Scotland and Sacro to increase and improve diversion from prosecution. That includes the provision of access to restorative justice services.

Lewis Macdonald

The constituent to whom I referred earlier was indeed in Aberdeen. Does the minister accept the point that, in taking that exploration forward, regard has to be had to the need to enforce a diversion for justice if that diversion for justice is not honoured by the offender?

Annabelle Ewing

I heard the point that the member made about his constituent. I am not entirely sure whether that has been the subject of correspondence with the Scottish Government—the member is nodding his head, so it has been. Any decision that is made by the local procurator fiscal on how to proceed in any given case is not a matter for ministers but I note the wider point that the member raises about enforcement in circumstances in which fiscal compensation orders are imposed. I will ensure that that is drawn to the attention of officials and we will have a look at that.

In Shetland, the space2face project enables young offenders to work with trained artists to make a gift of artwork for the person whom they have harmed. Offences that the project has covered have included assault, cyberbullying, theft, breach of the peace, fraud and vandalism.

In Edinburgh, restorative justice processes are being developed for those serving community payback orders related to hate crime. To support that work, an information-sharing protocol has been developed and staff have been trained in the delivery of restorative justice.

Those examples demonstrate how restorative justice processes can be tailored to local need. They also highlight some of the challenges associated with the expansion of restorative justice provision across the country—challenges such as how and when to contact victims. Each victim’s journey is unique, as is the point at which they may feel willing and able to participate in a restorative justice process. In some cases, that may be months or even years after the crime was committed.

Contact protocols that recognise those challenges and which are compliant with data protection legislation are therefore required. We also need to ensure that high-quality training is available for restorative justice facilitators, as that is essential to ensure that services are of a consistent standard and are carried out safely and effectively.

A third challenge, which the debate helps to address, and which several members have highlighted, is the need for us to build public awareness and understanding of restorative justice and the benefits that it can deliver. We need to promote it as an option that runs in tandem with and complements the mainstream criminal justice system. It is not a replacement for the mainstream system, nor—as Liam McArthur pointed out—is it a soft option for those who do harm. I believe that the cross-party support for the motion and the welcoming tone of the debate illustrate that we have achieved a good degree of consensus on those points.

Finally, there is a need for clarity around the roles and responsibilities of all those who are involved in encouraging, managing and delivering restorative justice. That will require commitment and support from local authorities, public sector bodies and third sector partners and volunteers. The challenges are clear, and we are committed to providing strategic leadership to address them. We will build on the momentum of our work to date and consider how best to encourage the development and delivery of restorative justice in Scotland. One potential option could be the development of a national strategic framework to inform work at a local level, to ensure access to existing restorative justice services and to develop further provision to meet the needs of victims. We are working with Community Justice Scotland to scope out our next steps. Consultation and engagement with stakeholders, including local authorities and the Scottish restorative justice forum, will follow.

We want restorative justice to be a key component of our justice system, empowering victims and enabling offenders to take responsibility and to make amends. We will continue to work with our partners to turn that vision into a reality.

Meeting closed at 17:46.