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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 October 2005, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Guidelines on justice by New Year

By Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

Justice Minister David Hanson has told the BBC that he hopes to publish new guidelines on restorative justice in Northern Ireland "before the early New Year".

David Hanson
David Hanson hopes to publish new guidlines on restorative justice

Mr Hanson said his officials had been talking to groups involved in restorative justice and individuals within the criminal justice system about guidelines which could provide a benchmark for how such schemes should operate.

However, the minister says he won't formally issue any guidelines before discussing them with members of the wider community.

Supporters of restorative justice schemes argue that they provide a positive alternative to paramilitary beatings and attacks in loyalist and republican areas.

But critics express concern that they may create a two-tier justice system.

Fourteen schemes are currently in operation in republican areas, administered by an organisation called Community Restorative Justice.

Five operate in loyalist areas, run by an group called Northern Ireland Alternatives.

Northern Ireland Alternatives works with the police, who sit on their management committee.

Restorative justice schemes can see offenders meet victims

But Community Restorative Justice does not cooperate with the police, reflecting Sinn Fein's argument that the PSNI is still not trusted in republican areas.

All the schemes are funded by Atlantic Philanthropies, a charity set up by the US millionaire Chuck Feeney who has in the past given money to Sinn Fein.

However, this private funding for restorative justice is expected to run out at the end of the financial year in April.

Both the loyalist and republican groups have applied for state funding without success.

It's believed any future funding is being tied to the groups' acceptance of the new guidelines.

Northern Ireland Alternatives accepted previous drafts from the government.

'Nonsense'

But Community Restorative Justice rejected the suggested guidelines.

Its director Jim Auld said the previous guidelines were nonsense because they would not have allowed his scheme to take any cases from the community, but only to work with referrals from the police.

Mr Auld accuses the Northern Ireland Office of "political vetting", saying there is no reason why Community Restorative Justice should not get funding for non-criminal work.

However he holds out little hope of his group changing its attitude towards the PSNI.

Tom Winston of Northern Ireland Alternatives expresses frustration that his schemes are being lumped together with those in republican areas.

He says restorative justice has been politicised whilst "everyone waits on the big bang" of Sinn Fein changing its policy on policing.

Victims

Mr Winston says his schemes follow three broad principles.

They enable victims to meet offenders who might be asked to provide either an apology or financial compensation.

Offenders may also do something for the community, like cleaning graffitti off walls or tidying up gardens in their area.

Finally a support worker will try to ensure someone does not re-offend.

Community Restorative Justice has lobbied Sinn Fein to raise its case for funding with the government.

However, the SDLP is unhappy about the prospect.

This week the SDLP's Alex Attwood said "it would be dangerous folly" if the government funded such projects before all parties, including Sinn Fein accepted the new policing structures.

Mr Attwood said this would "create a sense, and some argue the reality, that there are two policing worlds, that of the PSNI, due process and the rule of law, and that of others, their processes and their law".


SEE ALSO:
Restorative justice in spotlight
28 Feb 05 |  Northern Ireland
'Major advance' in justice reform
07 Jul 05 |  Northern Ireland


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