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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Offenders to face victims
Schemes where victims meet offenders could be expanded
People who commit crimes could avoid prosecution if they agree to face-to-face meetings with their victims and see the impact of their offences, it has been suggested.

The proposals for "restorative justice" - unveiled by Home Secretary David Blunkett - could reduce court time and cut costs.

But Mr Blunkett also claimed they could deliver "faster, more cost effective justice" although he acknowledged the plans were "radical".

A pilot scheme is now planned to establish whether the idea will cut reoffending.

Offenders could find themselves paying compensation to victims, offering an apology for their actions or doing unpaid community work.

Both victims and offenders would have to consent to taking part in the scheme with the perpetrator admitting to the offence.

Pilot scheme

The Crown Prosecution Service would decide where the scheme should be applied.

Details of the pilot will be published by the Home Office later in the year but the scheme is likely to run for 12 months and track reconviction rates for 18 months after that.

Restorative justice has so far been confined largely to young offenders but will be stepped up to include more adult offenders, school bullies and anti-social hooligans.

Mr Blunkett said: "Restorative justice means victims can get an apology from their offender, but it is about more than 'saying sorry' - it provides the victim with an explanation of why the crime was committed.

"This is something a prison sentence on its own can never do and can enable victims to move on and carry on with their lives.

"It also means that for the first time offenders will be personally held to account for the crimes they have committed."

New caution

Victims will be offered the choice of meeting the offender or they can use a mediator to ask questions.

Restorative justice could also be used as part of the new police conditional caution - part of the criminal justice bill passing through Parliament.

The governments proposals come as a report from the Probation Inspectorate said support services for victims of crime are inconsistent across England and Wales.

The Chief Inspector of Probation Rod Morgan looked at whether victims were kept informed about their case, and if their concerns about the offender had been passed onto the authorities.

Although the Inspectorate found a lot of very good work taking place with victims, many issues still remain to be addressed
Chief Inspector of Probation Rod Morgan
He said "a lot of very good work" was now taking place with some victims.

He particularly praised the way victims of serious violent or sex offences were being routinely notified about release arrangements for offenders.

But there was a lack of consistency across different areas, he said.

Guidance was required on working with victims from minority groups, including child victims.

More work was also needed in making offenders understand the impact of their crime on the victim.

And victims' views were not always reflected in reports for prisons and parole boards, he said.

BBC News spoke to both a victim and an offender who said the meetings had been helpful.

Restorative justice

Stacey Hammond, 14, who had her mobile phone stolen when she was mugged last November by a group of girls, met one of her female attackers.

Although the girl who mugged her did not say sorry, Stacey still thought asking her questions had helped rebuild her confidence.

"I was very scared, I didn't go out for a few weeks because I was so scared, I thought it would happen again.

"But since I met one of the girls I've brought up my confidence to actually go out."

Damian Divine, an offender who met his victims' parents and apologised to them, said it had made him rethink his life.

"That meeting got me thinking... I used to do all these things before... it's about doing something right, aiming for something positive in your life," he said.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"The scheme is part of government moves to involve victims more"

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