Restorative justice practices are making their debut in Northern Ireland after heavy support from several criminal justice organizations as well as judges. An initial move that began at a Criminal Justice Group event led to what one North Ireland judge calls useful debates. This helped confirm that there was indeed enough organizational and community support for offering offenders alternatives to short stints in jail.
Following this positive discourse, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Sir Declan Morgan, instructed the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) to draw up a new model which will now be ready for its trial run starting in October, 2015 at several jurisdictions including Armagh/South Down and Ards.
Individuals guilty of offenses that normally carry sentences that are under 12 months will be assessed for their suitability for these new alternatives by probation officers. What will this Enhanced Combination Order, as it’s being called, focus on? Those who are deemed fit to participate in these new alternatives, a decision which is still ultimately in the hands of judges, will be required to go into rehabilitation for their actions and take part in reparations to those affected by those actions. This will also include face to face meetings with victims or writing apology letters. With this, Northern Ireland’s leading criminal justice groups wish demonstrate how such practices will lead to a decrease recidivism.
This pilot program is already gaining praises from politicians across Northern Ireland including the Minister of Justice, David Ford, who said: “The Enhanced Combination Order is one of a number of positive developments currently underway which have the potential to improve the effectiveness of our criminal justice system, and are being supported and informed by the involvement of the judiciary working in close partnership with others.”