I observed the Cambridgeshire Police Authority Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday the 13th of December.
I used the public speaking slot at the start of the meeting to ask about the force’s restorative justice policies.
Following my use of the public speaking slot at the previous scrutiny committee meeting the force agreed to publish their restorative justice policies. They have now put a substantial amount more information online at:
I said this was an excellent step, and noted it was a new development since the meeting’s papers had been produced and since I had written my submitted question.
There is still a huge gulf between what has been published online and what is being repeatedly told to police authority members and councillors responsible for overseeing the police.
The force website now indicates that only certain offences can be dealt with via restorative justice however Deputy Chief Constable Feavyour has told the police authority any offence could be dealt with via restorative justice.
Even the hard exemptions, including domestic violence, which the force lead on the subject area, Inspector Human, insists are in-place are apparently not accepted by chief officers.
Other inconsistency comes with multiple offences and repeat offenders.
North Cambridge residents have been told someone who committed six thefts from vehicles has been dealt with by restorative justice. Inspector Sissons told Star Radio Cambridge: “The idea is this is the first entry into the criminal system, though there are occasions when we can give two or three.”
This is out of line with both what Inspector Human and Chief Officers say, which is an individual only gets one chance at restorative justice.
It appeared that some of the force’s detailed policies on restorative justice, in particular when cases need to be approved by a sergeant or inspector, were detailed in committee papers but these policy documents were not included in the public documents pack for the committee. I was thrown out of the meeting when I sought to query the omission.
Another element of my public question read:
Have the committee, or the authority, yet received full written details of the force’s policies on restorative justice disposals?
I note written details of the force’s restorative justice disposal policies were not supplied to the last meeting of the scrutiny committee. I observed the committee agree at its last meeting to effectively pretend they had been supplied and to publish them along with the meeting papers. Is this still the intent?
I’ve had no clear answer on these points. When orally presenting my question I expressed my view that pretending papers had been submitted to a committee was inappropriate.
I don’t know if these documents are yet held by the authority; they don’t appear to have been supplied to either the full authority or the scrutiny committee.
I noted that restorative justice was described as “pre-court” rather than “out of court” on the Cambridgeshire police webpage on penalties.
I noted the inconsistencies between some of what was included in the PDF list of offences and those on the webpage, for example one states “Criminal damage (under £100)” is an example of a crime suitable for restorative justice disposal; but the full list PDF describes caps of £3-500.
One member of the authority, Cllr John Batchelor, queried if restorative justice disposals really only took an hour on average. The police assured him this was true. He said he didn’t believe it.
Member, Jayne Wright, recommended the recent Panorama documentary on restorative justice (leading me to wonder if she realised that was largely about post-court restorative justice whereas the committee were discussing restorative justice disposals as an alternative to court).
Another member said they approved of giving police officers discretion and not setting hard and fast rules on when restorative justice can be used.
As I was thrown out of the scrutiny committee for querying the omission of papers from the public document pack I don’t know what, if anything, the committee resolved.
As there were no other members of the press or public present, and the next meeting isn’t due until March 2012, we won’t find out for three months. (Unusually the Police Authority keep their draft minutes secret until they are put to the next meeting for approval).