Labour says schemes like apologising to victims should not be used in serious cases like domestic violence or assault
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said using restorative justice in serious crimes went against Acpo guidelines.
The police are dealing with as many as one in eight violent offences, including knife crimes and domestic violence, by getting the offender to apologise to the victim rather than prosecuting them in court, according to House of Commons research.
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, says that Freedom of Information Act requests show a steep rise in the number of serious crimes being dealt with by community resolution methods, such as restorative justice, since a 20% cut in Whitehall grants to the police began to bite in 2010.
The House of Commons library figures show that up to 14% of recorded violent offences are being dealt with in this way by some forces instead of being prosecuted in the courts. The number of cases has risen from 13,420 in 2009 to 22,733 in 2010 and reached 33,673 last year. The 2012 figures include 10,160 offences involving serious injury being dealt with in this way.
Community resolution, including restorative justice, where the offender is brought face to face with their victim, is supposed to be used as an alternative to prosecution for low-level criminal damage, low-value thefts, minor assaults without injury or antisocial behaviour.
Association of Chief Police Officers guidelines say they should only be used for less serious offences where the offender accepts responsibility, the victim has been consulted and the offender has no relevant past offending history. Offences dealt with in this way do not carry a criminal record or lead to an entry on the police national computer.
Cooper said the evidence showed that the use of restorative justice can be very effective in tackling antisocial behaviour and low-level crime.
“But the evidence and Acpo guidance are very clear that these should not be used for serious crimes, and should not be used for domestic violence at all. To do so risks giving community resolutions a bad name.”
The House of Commons library figures show that community resolutions were used to resolve 2,225 offences of domestic violence in 2012 in those forces that responded to the FOI requests. The practice is highest in Derbyshire, Manchester and the West Mercia forces.
Cooper said that ministers had allowed the situation to develop as the result of cuts to resources: “It is no coincidence that this big increase in community resolutions for serious crime comes at the same time as 15,000 police officers being lost. The police are doing less with less, and justice for serious crimes and vulnerable victims is being put at risk.”
She said the home secretary, Theresa May, should issue strong guidance setting out when community resolutions should be used: “The idea that perpetrators of domestic violence are being let off for things like saying sorry to the victim is very disturbing and risks perpetuating the abuse.”
Ten thousand violent crime cases dealt with by ‘community resolution’ methods