Offenders to meet their victims

15 January 2014

The proposals are part of a new scheme to try and cut high reoffending rates.  How the encounters will operate will be set out in a new clause of the Crime and Courts Bill being debated in the House of Lords.

Currently the practice of making offenders meet their victims is only used in very few areas of the country and not particularly widely.  It's formal inclusion is being proposed in the hope that the meetings will make offenders confront the effects of their crimes. 

Liberal Democrat Justice Minister Lord McNally said "it's been a key policy of the Liberal Democrats for a number of years.  We will now put restorative justice on a statutory footing which gives it greater credibility and shows that it is not just a side show.  It ticks boxes both for those who want to see a more central role for the victim and those who see it as a real factor in rehabilitation".

Lord McNally said "I have talked to both victims and perpetrators.  Offenders have said [meeting their victims] was one of the worst and most difficult things they have had to do.  They said it was a moment of truth when they came face to face with [what they had done]".

Past surveys have found that victims report an 85% satisfaction rate and a 14% drop was reported in reoffending rates among perpetrators. 

The scheme is subject to some criticism that offenders will pretend that they are contrite to try and obtain a lesser sentence.  However, Lord McNally states that "it will hopefully influence future behaviour but will not affect the sentences that will be passed for the offence.  It's not a 'trade off' with other sentences.  It's about getting closure".  He said that as a result of his discussions with victims many had said that the meeting had made a difference to the way that they had viewed the perpetrator as a crime against them saying such things as "when I met him he seemed such a pathetic figure", or "he didn't frighten me anymore".

It is understood that the scheme will apply to those involved in relatively low-level crime such as mugging, petty burglary, local disturbances and criminal damage are likely to find themselves having to take part in the proposed schemes and Magistrates and Judges will then have information about the offenders behaviour at the time they are sentenced.

Lord McNally was quick to confirm "we are not representing it as an alternative to prison – but prison is very expensive.  So we are looking for more cost effective measures to change behaviour and save future victims.  If we can, by a variety of measures, get reoffending rates down from 50%…we would be making a huge saving for the tax payer".

There is currently no indication as to when it is hoped that the scheme could be introduced.

The above is not legal advice, it is intended to provide information of general interest in current legal issues.