Merits of restorative justice are discussed

A PILOT scheme which focuses on restorative justice across the Bognor Regis area has been put in the spotlight.

Arun District Council’s environmental services and community development working group discussed the progress of a neighbourhood resolution conference pilot at their meeting on Wednesday.

The initiative focuses on restorative justice – bringing offenders face-to-face with their victims – and is used to tackle lower level crimes.

Member Paul English asked how many people had taken part in the conferences. He was told so far there had been 11 cases.

Cllr English said: “I support what restorative justice is trying to do, but for whatever reason it doesn’t seem to be working. I don’t see how Arun can justify to keep spending money on this. I just don’t see how the public is going to benefit. It has not been a massive success for Arun at this time”

Cllr Tony Squires agreed saying he believed this should be being done through the magistrates’ court. “This whole system seems to me like we are using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. If people break the law they should be punished. If we are just going to tell them they just need to say sorry it is not going to work,” he said.

But fellow working group member Jacky Pendleton disagreed.

She said: “I could not disagree more. When we are talking about restorative justice, even a small success is still a success.

“You cannot tell people not to re-offend, they won’t listen, they have to see first-hand what their actions have done by talking to the victim.

“It is not about sitting in a court, and telling someone they have been naughty and need to be punished this is about making them realise what they have done and getting them to accept responsibility for it.”

The pilot was launched by the council and the Safer Arun Partnership last June with help from the Sussex Criminal Justice Board. So far nine volunteers have been trained as facilitators.

Roger Wood, Arun’s head of neighbourhoods said: “We are not talking about piling a lot of resources into this. We are at this point maintaining it. It is coasting along naturally.”

Mr Wood said he hoped to be able to look into other avenues to take it further.

“A restorative justice manager has just been appointed by the police crime commissioner and hopefully we will be able to tap into that,” added Mr Wood.

The working group’s chairman Jill Madeley said: “What we have to remember is this is a pilot. We have only been running it for one year and we need to give it time to grow.”

The committee voted in favour five-three to recommend to the cabinet that, subject to funding, officer support for the pilot continues.