We are pleased to welcome this guest post from Diarmuid Griffin, Lecturer in Law at NUI Galway. You can read more about Diarmuid on our Guest Contributors Page.
The National Commission on Restorative Justice published its final report in December 2009. The Commission, announced in March 2007, was set up to examine the wider application of restorative justice within the criminal justice system. The Commission was established following the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights which recommended the development of a restorative justice programme for adult offenders in the Irish criminal justice system.
Restorative justice programmes can already be seen in operation in Ireland for juvenile offenders through the Garda Diversion Programme or a court-referred Probation Service Conference and ad hoc programmes dealing with adult offenders in Nenagh and Tallaght. While there are various different models of restorative justice, the practice generally involves the bringing together of the victim, offender and, where possible, members of the community to negotiate the outcome for the offending behaviour. For example, rather than sentencing an offender to a traditional term in prison a judge may refer an offender into a restorative programme where such a negotiation may occur.
In its final report, the Commission recommends the national implementation of restorative justice for adult offenders. The Commission believes that such a programme “will make a positive contribution to the lives of all citizens, and particularly to those more closely connected to the offending behaviour.” Having conducted an extensive examination of the use of restorative justice in Ireland and in other jurisdictions, the report attempts to provide a workable framework for the development of restorative justice that is mindful of both economic and criminal justice realities.
Last week’s Northern Ireland Court Service Annual Report (2008-09) provides backslapping bonhomie and useful statistics on the operation of the Courts in Northern Ireland in equal measure.
The recession’s impact on the activities of courts in this period has been particularly interesting. The relatively stable amount of business in Northern Ireland’s Crown Courts and a 6 per cent drop in cases before magistrates courts can be set against fears of rising crime rates which accompanied the economic downturn. Unsurprisingly, however, the civil courts have made up for this shortfall, with an overall 14 per cent rise in caseload largely being accounted for by a 77 per cent rise in mortgage cases.
Nonetheless, in recognition of the degree to which the Court Service has tackled these challenges, the Report notes that ‘all 21 courthouses in Northern Ireland achieve the new Cabinet Office “Customer Service Excellence” Standard’, the successor to the Chartermark standard for public service providers (p.6). As Jack Straw noted in his response to the report, these awards provide ‘clear testimony to the positive experience of court users and the service delivered by front-line staff’ (p. 7). Nonetheless this award scheme is, like its predecessor, dogged by the reality that, even if its performance dramatically declined, the people of Northern Ireland would have no alternative to the Court Service as presently organised (and that lobbying for reform would still have to go through Westminster as policing and justice spheres are yet to be devolved).