Court Based Restorative Justice

Court Based Restorative Justice

If the crime is going to Court, you will be asked if you would like the opportunity sooner (before sentence) or at a later time.

County Durham offers an almost unique opportunity within Durham Crown Court, as well as Peterlee and Newton Aycliffe Magistrates Courts, called ‘pre-sentence restorative justice’. The aim of this opportunity allows a victim to have greater direct involvement in the criminal justice process, giving them a stronger voice and presence within their case.

The Criminal Justice System can at times, be an excluding and silencing experience. A victim might feel overwhelmed by the impact the crime has had on their life, but at the same time, feel like a small part of the Court case. Sometimes it might feel like the justice system has taken ownership of the incident and the victim becomes merely a name on the case file. At the same time, offenders attend Court and are sentenced without ever understanding how their actions have impacted other people’s lives.

Restorative Justice challenges this.

A pre-sentence restorative activity can provide victims with an opportunity to get answers to questions, get a greater understanding of the crime and the offender and, where possible, receive some resolution or closure to the incident to be able to move forward.

Many victims who have participated in pre-sentence restorative justice have reported an increased sense of empowerment, closure and satisfaction from having their voice heard. Not only does it allow you to ask the questions that can’t be asked in any other setting, it allows you to explain to the person who harmed you what the real impact and the consequences have been to your life. With the support of others and in a safe environment, you have the opportunity to hold the offender directly and personally to account. A 78 year old County Durham victim recently said “I felt as though I was brought forward and included as an important part of the case, but it’s possible for the victim to feel unnoticed and ignored.’

I am interested in this opportunity. What do I do?

If your case is going to Court and would like to discuss this opportunity further, ask the Police Officer dealing with your case to refer you to the Restorative Hub, or speak to your VCAS Officer or alternatively, contact us directly.

A trained facilitator will arrange to meet you to talk about the impact of what has happened, the consequences this might have for you and what would help to make you feel better.

The facilitator will explore whether you would prefer communication with the offender directly (face to face meeting) or indirectly (through the facilitator or letter etc). You will be asked whether you would prefer the communication to be sooner, before the sentence is passed, or later.

What about Pleas?

Pre-sentence restorative justice can only take place once the person who has been charged pleads guilty when they attend Court. The facilitator will inform the Court, CPS and the Defence that you are interested in this opportunity and if a guilty plea is entered, and the Court agrees to adjourn for a short period, the offender will be asked if they are willing to participate. The facilitator will talk to the offender about what happened and about their understanding of the harm they have caused.

I want some answers, but don’t want to meet the offender…!

That’s ok. Some people don’t want to meet the offender for various reasons but still feel they would benefit from getting some of their questions answered. This can be facilitated via written communication or ‘shuttle conferencing’. A facilitator will meet you with and gather all the questions or points you wish to raise and will work hard to get those answers swiftly, without you ever meeting your harmer.

I would like to meet the offender, but where would this happen?

If everyone agrees – that’s you, the offender and the facilitator, then a face to face meeting called a ‘conference’ will be arranged. If the offender is remanded in prison, this can be facilitated within that establishment. However, you will be fully prepared beforehand.

If the offender is not in prison, we can arrange a neutral venue or somewhere you feel safe, such as a Police Station.

Can I take someone with me?

Of course. If you feel you would like support within the meeting, this can be arranged. This is particularly beneficial if your supporter has also been affected in some way by the incident.

Will this change the sentence the offender gets?

Only the Judge can decide what weight, if any, he gives to the communication you’ve had with the offender. Though this opportunity is designed to benefit victims, it remains the decision of the Judge who is the only person who can decide on the appropriate sentence. However, a Court Report will be prepared and passed to the Judge which will record what happened, the impact it had, if anything was agreed in the meeting and what you think and feel.