Community Restorative Justice (CRJ) has branded the British government’s latest proposed guidelines overseeing the restorative justice project as “arrogant”.
CRJ has developed community-based alternatives to the judicial system for dealing with anti-social behaviour and low-level crime.
Last week Direct-Rule Minister David Hanson MP announced new protocols which, if enforced, would result in restorative justice projects having to deal directly with the PSNI police if they are to be considered for government grants.
The proposals will be subjected to a 12 week consultation process enabling CRJ to voice their concerns on the issue.
CRJ co-ordinator Jim Auld said that he was “disappointed” at the Minister’s announcement.
“This is a lost opportunity,” he said.
“There are issues here which hark back to the worst days of the conflict. It is a backward step as it has thrown up the worst political vetting.
“There is an arrogance within the state bureaucracy within the [British government] which doesn’t recognise the legitimacy of nationalist people unless we are totally subservient to them.
“They will decide who is good enough to work within the justice system as if they were the only ones good enough to make that decision.
“A panel will go through CRJ and decide if they are clean enough in their eyes to work in the system.”
Although a likely mechanism to coax republican communities towards formal policing structures, the CRJ schemes are considered controversial by unionists and the SDLP because of a perception that they are too closely linked to Sinn Féin. Republican dissidents fear that they will be targeted by the groups.
“We agreed to be willing to be inspected by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate in the same way as everyone else within the criminal justice system is,” said Auld.
“If you look at social workers, or probation service staff or prison staff, or PSNI officers, those organisations choose who works for them.
“However the government want overseeing rights on us, so the question is - how dare they?”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing and Justice Gerry Kelly said that the publication of the new protocols should remove the blockage to providing support for community-based restorative justice schemes.
“Those who have been orchestrating a smear campaign against restorative justice programmes have been doing so for narrow party political interests. Their agenda and the attempts to politically vet those who are pioneering restorative justice on this island should not be allowed to threaten progress.
“The Human Rights community and those overseeing transformation of the justice system have all given their support for community-based restorative justice programmes.”