03 April 2006

Attwood in call to amend restorative justice plans


The British Government was today urged to amend plans for neighbourhood justice schemes in Northern Ireland as speculation mounted that it could soon announce pilot schemes in loyalist and nationalist communities.

MONDAY 03/04/2006 08:48:15
By:Press Association

Nationalist SDLP Policing Board member Alex Attwood said ahead of a meeting today with Northern Ireland Office Minister David Hanson that the British Government needed to tread cautiously as it prepared its final proposals for state-backed community restorative justice schemes.

The West Belfast Assembly member, who has been critical of proposed guidelines for the schemes, said: "There are a number of core elements required, including accepting legitimacy of the police, maximum standards and safeguards, and rules governing all of the work undertaken by schemes.

"This is the triple lock than can promote best practice and avoid worst fears.

"This is the way Government needs to go. The failure of republicans to endorse policing is the gaping hole at the heart of proposals to regulate schemes.

"In the week when the governments (British and Irish) may announce their latest political initiatives, this is the issue that needs to be finally faced up to."

Community restorative justice schemes currently operate in working class republican and loyalist neighbourhoods across Northern Ireland.

They were set up to deal with low-level crime, bringing perpetrators face-to-face with their victims.

Sinn Fein, which supports the schemes, and people involved in running them argue that they are a viable alternative to so-called paramilitary punishment attacks in communities where there is little or no contact with the police.

But critics have expressed reservations about how restorative justice schemes are operating, particularly in republican areas.

The SDLP and Unionists, particularly, have accused the Government of putting forward proposals for state finance schemes which would see groups operating in republican areas keeping police involvement at an arm`s length.

Government officials have been considering more than 40 submissions from various organisations on their plans for community restorative justice.

Speculation is mounting that Mr Hanson may approve the operation of up to six pilot schemes under the charge of the Criminal Justice Inspectorate.

Ulster Unionist Policing Board member Fred Cobain today insisted that if there were to be pilot schemes, they must all involve direct contact between restorative justice organisations and the police.

"Restorative justice is a good concept," the North Belfast MLA said. "It works around the world. But there has to be checks and balances.

"Those checks and balances are in place in loyalist areas where there is direct consultation with the police but there has to be the same standards in republican communities.

"The police have to be fully involved whatever these schemes operate across Northern Ireland. There cannot be any question of one law for one set of schemes and another law for the rest."

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