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Now that shamed MP Chris Huhne has submitted a guilty plea it is up to the judge to decide on sentencing appropriate to the charge Huhne faces of perverting the course of justice. Speculation is rife that he faces prison for certain, not the first MP to do so; MP’s were handed down prison terms for their part in the expenses scandal. But what do you think the judge should go for? Does Huhne necessarily deserve a custodial sentence or could the judge opt for some form of community sentencing combined perhaps with a restorative justice element?
According to the Telegraph, Mr Justice Sweeney told Huhne he should “have no illusions whatsoever” about the type of sentence he is likely to receive. The maximum penalty for the offence is life imprisonment.
Mr Justice Sweeney faces a perfect illustration of the pressure that many judges come under – a sentence that benefits the crime, in proportion and as short as possible verses all of the above plus an element of deterrent or setting an example for others.
In my opinion Chris Huhe should not be made an example just by virtue of the fact he is an MP and has held a high profile position in the Government. Surely the judge should disregard is job title in the same way that people not in the public eye. Otherwise we are descending into the “court of public opinion”.
This of course begs the question of the role that restorative justice could play if adopted into the mainstream of the criminal justice system of England and Wales. Time will only tell if members of the judiciary will have the courage to use it as part of their toolbox when determining appropriate sentencing.
Retribution or restitution what are we really seeking here?
Chris Huhne quits as he faces jail after pleading guilty to perverting course of justice (2013) The Telegraph 05 February 2013. [Online]. Available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/liberaldemocrats/9847152/Chris-Huhne-quits-as-he-faces-jail-after-pleading-guilty-to-perverting-course-of-justice.html [accessed] 05 February 2013.
Photo: The Telegraph
In 2001 Lord Justice Auld recommended: ‘The development and implementation of a national strategy to ensure consistent, appropriate and effective use of restorative justice techniques across England and Wales’ (Auld, 2001, p. 391 para.69).
Last month the ‘Restorative Justice Action Plan for the Criminal Justice System’ was launched. “This action plan is a joint commitment to develop a more strategic and coherent approach to the use of restorative justice in England and Wales. It sets out the steps that will be taken to achieve this aim”.
This is an important step, but I have been reflecting on why it has taken more than a decade from Auld’s original recommendation to publication of the action plan itself.
In his ministerial forward Jeremy Wright MP states, “Restorative justice has the potential to break the destructive pattern of behaviour of those that offend by forcing them [italics mine] to confront the full extent of the emotional and physical damage they have caused to their victims”.
True. But why does Wright use the term “forcing them”?
Contrast this with the definition of Restorative Justice taken from Marshall (1999, p. 5) which is one of the most widely quoted. It states:
“A process whereby all the parties with a stake in a particular offence come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future”
Earlier in his ministerial forward, Wright says “The benefits of restorative justice are well known by those working within the sector. 85% of victims who go through restorative justice conferences find it helpful [italics mine]”.
Is the best criteria to evaluate restorative justice as to whether it was “helpful” or not? I guess it depends of what is meant by helpful.
This reminds me of Andrew von Hirsh’s comments (Von Hirsh et al, 2003) when he observed participant satisfaction [italics mine] as being a criteria used to evaluate Restorative Justice, yet there was no explanation as to why “satisfaction” was an appropriate and meaningful criteria.
Auld, Rt. Hon. Lord Justice (2001) Review of the criminal courts in England and Wales: Report. London: The Stationery Office.
Marshall, T. (1999) Restorative Justice: An Overview. London: Home Office Research, Development & Statistics Directorate.
Von Hirsch, A., Ashworth, A. and Shearing, C. (2003) ‘Specifying aims and limits for restorative justice: a “making amends” model?, in Von Hirsch, A. Roberts, J., Bottoms, A. E., Roach, K. and Schiff, M. (eds.) Restorative Justice and Criminal Justice: Competing of Reconcilable Paradigms? Oxford: Hart.