Cambridgeshire Police Restorative Justice Update

Screenshot from meeting papers

In advance of a Cambridgeshire Police Authority Scrutiny Committee meeting to be held on the 12th of September a paper on restorative justice, providing an update on its implementation in Cambridgeshire has been published.

Key Points

  • Cambridgeshire Police are planing to reduce the number of those taken into its police stations by a quarter through the use of on-street “restorative justice” summary resolutions instead of arrest and custody. Over a year the aim is a reduction of 6,000 individuals taken into custody, the equivalent of all those taken into Parkside police station in a year.
  • The police authority committee is being given this report after the implementation, and ramping up of the use of, restorative justice by the force. This follows the massive change not being mentioned in writing in the full police authority papers, and only briefly covered orally, in the absence of details.
  • The documents referenced in the report raise many critical, unaddressed, concerns about the use of restorative justice in the way Cambridgeshire Police has embarked on. All research into restorative justice focuses on the use of restorative justice in quite different manners eg. as part of a rehabilitation programme post-sentencing in court, not as in the form of summary punishments handed out by police constables or PCSOs.

I think it is excellent that the committee of the police authority is getting this report, but in many ways it is late. It is reporting what has already happened and what changes to policing strategy have already been made by the force. I think the police authority ought to have taken a lead, it ought to have been involved in determining the strategy in advance and approving its adoption.

The report states:

The introduction of RJ practices within the Constabulary was agreed in December 2010 within the Chief Superintendents’ meetings and Chiefs Officers Group.

In other words it was agreed, in secret, without the involvement of any elected representatives of the residents of Cambridgeshire.

The report to the police authority scrutiny committee says that the “practices” adopted by Cambridgeshire police are “mapped to respond to” the Exercising Discretion: The Gateway to Justice study by the Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate.

The report to the Cambridgeshire Police authority committee is unclear on what “mapped to” means. It is not clear if the practices adopted by Cambridgeshire Police follow what is set out in the study. Figure 2 and paragraph 1.21 of the study document state that restorative justice disposals are:

  • Not recorded/entered on the Police National Computer.
  • Not disclosed to the courts for use in sentencing.
  • Not recorded by the Criminal Records Bureau, and don’t therefore appear on CRB checks, even enhanced ones.
  • Not disclosable abroad. (ie. if foreign police forces or courts ask for information)
  • Not subject to the provisions of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. (As I understand it this means if someone is given a caution conditional on some kind or “restorative justice” punishment agreed then they are legally allowed to lie if in the future anyone, eg. an employer (or the courts?), asks if they’ve had any police cautions.)

One key problem with this lack of recording is that we won’t be treating repeat offenders appropriately. Even if a force keeps records of individuals who’ve been summarily given “restorative justice” sentences we might find serial offenders getting off with saying sorry in a number of police force areas before they eventually end up in court. When they do get to court the courts will not be fully aware of their history of offending and any sentence handed down there will be lighter than it ought be.

Another question the lack of recording raises is how the impact of restorative justice, Cambridgeshire style, on individual offenders will be assessed.

The Exercising Discretion: The Gateway to Justice study provides a useful definition of the flavour of restorative justice Cambridgeshire Police are embarking on a massive expansion of, it states (para 1.5-6):

RJ (also sometimes called ’reparative justice’) is an approach that focuses on the needs of victims and offenders, instead of taking offenders through the formal court system. In RJ processes, victims are given an active role in a dispute, and offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, and to repair the harm they have done – for example by apologising, compensating victims, repairing damage or doing some form of community service.

The term ‘RJ’ covers a wide range of options, starting from its use on the street (at a police officer’s discretion) to deal with a minor offence, for example, by getting the perpetrator to clean off graffiti and apologise to the victim. At the other end of the scale, a formal RJ panel may take place, with victims and perpetrators coming together to encourage the offender to face up to his or her actions and, if appropriate, agree any reparation.

(How many, if any of the more formal “panels” are to be used in Cambridgeshire isn’t clear, the focus appears to appears to have been on rapid “disposals” in an hour” rather than more involved, considered, responses).

The study report notes how there has been “disquiet” about the use of out of court “disposals” such as the form of restorative justice being used by Cambridgeshire Police from MPs on the House of Commons Justice Committee, the Magistrates’ Association and those working within the criminal justice system.

The MPs have said:

The growth in the number of out-of-court disposals represents a fundamental change to our concept of criminal justice and raises a number of concerns about consistency and transparency in the application of punishment.

The Magistrates’s Association have said:

…the growth of out-of-court disposals is failing the public and “dumbing down” the criminal justice system…[the police] cannot be relied upon to handle them appropriately…there is inconsistency of their use, there is inappropriate use.

and those working within the criminal justice system raising concerns that out of court disposals are being used in relation to:

  • serious offences, including violent and sexual offences, which ought to have been prosecuted at court;
  • persistent offenders … when their conduct demonstrated a pattern of behaviour requiring a more serious response;

These are the concerns I share, and do not appear to have been addressed prior to the massive expansion in the use of restorative justice as a form of instant summary justice handed down by Cambridgeshire Police constables and PCSOs.

Astonishingly the Exercising Discretion: The Gateway to Justice study cites the research into the effectiveness of post-conviction restorative meetings as part of rehabilitation when discussing restorative justice punishments issued as a form of summary justice.

Much of the research into the summary disposal form of restorative justice (an inspection into 5 forces which used such procedures to varying degrees) isn’t relevant to what Cambridgeshire is proposing either as they involved bringing offenders into custody and taking an average of five hours per case where as Cambridgeshire is proposing something much quicker and by-passing custody and arrest. Those carrying out the research it problems looking into the use of restorative justice disposals as:

Each of the inspected forces that offered adult RJ disposals had their own method for recording them. An issue could arise where an offender receives two or more RJ disposals in different force areas, because the separate police computer systems used are not linked together. There is no specific RJ disposal available on the PNC.

The study notes that “ACPO are proposing to publish minimum standards for restorative justice in 2011”, I’d rather such guidance was produced by the more accountable NPIA, but in any case it will be interesting to see how Cambridgeshire’s approach measures up to it. I’d be very happy for Cambridgeshire Police Authority to decide, if it was in Cambridgeshire’s best interests to deviate from national standards, but at least such a document would highlight areas where authority members ought be asking questions and assuring themselves any outlier behaviour was justified.

Paragraph 2.19 of the study, in a section on an inspection of five forces notes:.

there was evidence from one force that there has been a conscious decision to actively reduce the number of out-of-court disposals. They were undertaking a ‘charging’ pilot whereby offenders were arrested and charged instead of being issued with an out-of-court disposal. The rationale for this strategy was to take away the notion of the police officer acting as the ‘judge and jury’ when dealing with offenders, and to ensure that cases go before a court.

Which force is conducting that U turn isn’t mentioned, but I wonder if we will see Cambridgeshire follow suit – either when the police authority members get a grip of their roles – or more likely when we have an elected police and crime commissioner.

September 2011 Restorative Justice Update

Further notes on the report to the forthcoming meeting:

Paragaraph 3.1 refers to a “gravity score matrix” for offences which can be used to determined if an offence is suitable for a restorative justice disposal. This points system was missing from the framework document released to me when I requested it.

Paragraph 3.3 states that there is a “required reduction of 6,000 detainees through the custody estate by end of this calendar year” this is clearly a huge change to policing in Cambridgeshire. This compares with a total number of individuals detained in custody being 23,559 in 2008-9 and 23,331 in 2009-10. (source).

This shows how significant a change this is. It is a reduction in the number of those to be held in custody approximately equivalent to the number of individuals held at Parkside police station in Cambridge over a year; or a reduction of more than a quarter in the total number of those to be detained in custody.

Paragraph 4.1 reveals that the massive expansion of the range of offences where RJ could be applied as a disposal occurred in June 2011. This means it was surprising that the details of the expansion were not revealed in writing to the full police authority meeting held on the 29th of June 2011, they were only mentioned in an oral update and full details were not given.

The update report to the scrutiny committee states that the use of restorative justice was increased to all offences where a gravity score of two or below could apply (excluding those involving drugs, weapons or sexual motivation). Again this suggests that the framework document released omits a key factor – the points scoring system.

Paragraph 4.3 states that ~4,000 hours of officer time have been released based on multiplying the 487 uses of restorative justice to-date by 8 hours of savings based on a target of one hour for a restorative justice disposal. This is despite the study referenced saying that a restorative justice disposal in practice was taking over 5 hours, due to the decision to use such a disposal being taken late in the process after arrest and custody. No actual figures are given just estimates based on “national guidance”. Clearly the estimates are meaningless given the variation in the application of restorative justice between forces and what matters is the impact Cambridgeshire’s flavour is having in Cambridgeshire.

The report notes that volume crime detectives are the next group of officers to be trained in the use of restorative justice in Cambridgeshire. Their training is to amount to just two hours each which doesn’t appear much to me given the importance of the decisions they’ll be making and how often, according the the current force policy, they’d be expected to use them.

The Police Authority committee on the 12th of September will be open to the public. There is also a slot on the agenda where the public can make statements or ask questions. I may well seek to make use that opportunity. The paper is being presented in the name of the Chief Constable, it will be interesting to see if he turns up himself or delegates this critical report to a junior officer.


12 responses to “Cambridgeshire Police Restorative Justice Update”

  1. I have written the following to Cllr Kevin Wilkins (Liberal Democrat, Cambridgeshire County Councillor for West Chesterton) who is also a member of Cambridgeshire Police Authority.

    Cllr Wilkins,

    I am writing following your statement at the May 2011 North Area committee expressing your support for Cambridgeshire Police’s use of restorative justice on the grounds there was lots of evidence that it reduced reoffending.

    I have looked at the evidence cited by the Ministry of Justice on the effectiveness of restorative justice(1) and it appears to me that there is no evidence based on applications of restorative justice protocols which are anything like those Cambridgeshire Police are now ramping up the use of. The evidence restorative justice works is in mainly in the context of rehabilitation post-convictiion and sentencing by a court. While it shares a name the use of summary punishments being handed out by police officers on the streets, as an alternative to arresting someone and taking them to court, is something quite different.

    As you know I observed the June 2011 police authority meeting where the massive increase in the range of offences Cambridgeshire Police are to use restorative justice disposals in was announced. I was appalled that such a significant change was reported after it had occurred, orally and that the details of the increased range of offences was not given. I recall you did ask for a copy of the force’s framework document. I made a FOI request for it:

    However I have little confidence that the document released is complete. I suspect it omits key restrictions eg. on use for repeat offenders and a “points” based scheme for assessing aggravating and mitigating factors to assess seriousness. The latter is referred to in an update report being presented to the police authority’s scrutiny committee on the 12th of September.

    That report also highlights how enormous a shift in the force’s operation could be, if it is sustained, with a predicted reduction in the number of those taken to custody by a quarter. I have written an article on this report which is available at:

    I’ve also written an article following a public question at the West/Central area committee where I expressed concern about the difference between what the police are saying publicly about restorative justice and what their framework document, as released, says:

    I invite you to comment, in public, on those articles.


    Richard Taylor


  2. I have written to the Police Authority to give them formal advance notice of my intent to seek to use the public speaking slot at Monday’s meeting:

    Dear Cambridgeshire Police Authority,

    I would like to give notice of a statement which I would like to make during the “Questions and Statements from Members of the Public” agenda item of the Police Authority’s Scrutiny Committee meeting at 3pm on Monday the 12th of September 2011.

    My proposed contribution relates to agenda Item 10 – the Restorative Justice Update.

    The key points I would like to make are:

    1. In my view it has not been made clear to either the police authority or the public how Cambridgeshire Police are now using restorative justice disposals.

    • The list of offences / circumstances in which restorative justice may be used by officers has not been published. The framework document released via FOI does not contain details of the “gravity score” system referred to in the paper to the scrutiny committee.
    • Areas where I think further details are required include record keeping, data sharing (with courts and other police forces), any differences between disposals available to be used by PCSOs, and constables of various ranks, along with restrictions for use in relation to repeat offenders and multiple offences.
    • Guidance and frameworks relating to punishments / reparations which can be handed down ought be published.
    • The procedure for accepting restorative justice is appropriate when there is no clear victim, or residents of an area in general are the victim ought also be made public.
    • The force and authority websites ought be kept up to date with information on restorative justice.

    2. I am concerned that there is a large gulf between the way the police are saying, through their website, at public meetings, and in the press, that they will use restorative justice disposals and what the force policy permits and what is actually happening. For example assurances have been given that, for example, these out of court disposals will not be used to deal with repeat offenders, but an ecops message sent to residents in North Cambridge has reported its use in a case involving multiple instances of thefts from vehicles. There have been repeated assurances that restorative justice will be only used for minor offences but the released framework appears to contradict this, as does the aim of reducing custody admission by a quarter.

    3. The large expansion in the range of offences for which restorative justice disposals are to be used was noted orally, not in writing, to the full Police Authority meeting in June, and details of the process were not proactively provided. An enormous strategic change in the way Cambridgeshire is being policed has occurred here. The plan is to reduce by a quarter the number of individuals brought into police custody. The police authority ought to have been involved in developing any proposals and its approval sought before they were implemented. I am concerned the authority, a key route for some local democratic influence over police strategy, has been by-passed.

    4. The UK Government’s research that shows restorative justice can reduce reoffending, which is cited by the study referred to in the paper to the committee, is research into a very different implementation of restorative justice than we’re seeing the use of being ramped up in Cambridgeshire. Summary justice handed down within the hour by a police officer is a world away from a restorative justice meeting as part of an offender’s rehabilitation after sentencing by a court. I think authority members should consider that when permitting the force to continue with this experiment.

    5. There is a lack of information provided on the experience of using restorative justice in Cambridgeshire. The report contains calculations based on an assumption of disposals being carried out in an hour. The research study cited says in practice (via a different protocol in another force) much on longer times were being taken for restorative justice disposals. I think the authority, and the public, need to be given more information about what is happening, currently, in Cambridgeshire – eg. how many restorative justice disposals actually occur post-custody or post-arrest.

    6. I have many more questions and concerns about Cambridgeshire Police’s implementation of restorative justice disposals and have expanded on my views on this subject, and provided links to the documents I have mentioned, at and

  3. Every two weeks Star Radio interview Inspector Robin Sissions, Sector Inspector for Ely.

    I’ve written in with a suggestion:

    How about asking about “restorative justice disposals”?

    This is where PCSOs and constables are now going to take on the role of magistrates, judges and the probation service and issue on the spot punishments instead of arresting people and taking them to court. Cambridgeshire Police is planning to reduce the number of people they take into custody by a quarter by using the scheme. This is a huge change.

    Can the inspector give examples of where he and his team have issued such on-street instant justice. (Can we have real examples and not “textbook” ones?)

    What’s the most serious crime he and his team are allowed to use this process on?

    Is it being used for those who’ve committed multiple offences or have re-offended?

    Are records being kept so if people do end up in-front of the courts their history of being dealt with via restorative justice will be made known to the judge/magistrates?

    Can PCSOs issue as wide a range of restorative justice disposals as he can as an inspector?

    How is this working for him and his team, is restorative justice resulting in cases being dealt with in under an hour as the Chief Constable says or does it take longer?

    What’s the main driving force behind this. Saving money? The Chief Constable wanting change for change’s sake? Police obsession with targets and statistics and wanting a “disposal” for every crime and not knowing when to simply do nothing?
    Does the inspector think the public are well enough aware of this massive change to policing. Has he experienced any victims / criminals surprised at the way they’re being dealt with?

    I’ve written more about restorative justice at


  4. The front page of the Cambridge News weekend edition is today carrying an article on Cambridgeshire Police’s Restorative Justice implementation. The headline is “‘Payback justice’ to cut police red tape”.

    The story says:

    The scheme has so far saved the force 4,000 front line hours and officers have delt with 500 offenders using the payback scheme.

    The way the 4,000 hours has been arrived at is revealed in the report to the Police Authority committee to be based on an assumption that each restorative justice disposal takes an hour. Data on how long such disposals are actually taking in Cambridgeshire has not been released. I think it is misleading to say that 4,000 front line hours have actually been saved when it is in fact an estimate.

    The article also states someone urinating on Market Square in Cambridge has been dealt with via a restorative justice disposal; it doesn’t mention who approved the use of restorative justice, and the punishment of “cleaning it up”.

    I note that the usual method the police use for dealing with those urinating on the street, a Fixed Penalty Notice, can also not take up much of a police officer’s time, so question the amount of time being saved in cases such as that.

    The Cambridge News article contains some “exclusive” quotes from Chief Constable Simon Parr including:

    We’re talking about half a million pounds of operational time saved that we have put back into patrolling and dealing with bigger risks and more serious threats to the community”.

    Interestingly dividing the 1/2 a million pounds by the 4,000 hours gives the cost of front line policing as £125/hour.

    Update (Monday): The Cambridge News article is now online:

  5. The report cited is no longer online. A similar report is at:

    It states:

    The effective use of RJ practices is seen as one of the methods of supporting the delivery of the required reduction of 6,000 detainees through the custody estate by end of this calendar year, and the RJ Implementation Group therefore reports to the OP ReDesign Professional Judgement and Custody Project Boards.

    In June 2011 the range of offences where RJ could be applied as a disposal was increased to all offences where a gravity score of
    two or below could apply (excluding those involving drugs, weapons or sexual motivation).

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