06 December 2005

Stalemate feared over restorative justice plan

Belfast Telegraph

By Chris Thornton
06 December 2005

Government plans for restorative justice could be heading for a stalemate today after the most prominent restorative justice scheme in republican areas said it will not sign up to the plan until their is an overall settlement on policing.

Community Restorative Justice Ireland gave a cautious welcome to yesterday's publication of draft guidelines for restorative justice, which brings offenders and victims together to decide on penalties.

The guidelines would see all cases referred to the PSNI, leading CRJI spokesman Noel McCartney to state: "We will not be able to actually implement agreed arrangements until there is an overall political settlement on policing".

But Criminal Justice Minister David Hanson said police involvement is "not negotiable".

This raised an immediate question mark over how effective the Government regulations will be if a group is determined to operate outside them.

The Government does not fund the organisations, so it cannot withdraw money.

Under the guidelines, the Government will accredit the schemes, but it is not clear whether any scheme operating without accreditation would be violating the law.

The Government addressed concerns that the schemes could bypass the PSNI in the guidelines, saying restorative justice schemes must have an "unambiguous and appropriate relationship" with police.

But the SDLP and unionists said they remain concerned about the proposals.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the proposals could unleash a situation where "local warlords will be acting as if they are law lords".

Sinn Fein Assembly member Gerry Kelly accused the SDLP of peddling myths.

"These schemes have been operating successfully in the north since 1999 and we have not heard this hysterical opposition before now," he said.

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