Saturday, July 30, 2011

Government Minister Praises Ecumenical Criminal Justice Forum

Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice, Lord (Tom) McNally has praised the enormously important role of the Norfolk Ecumenical Criminal Justice Forum.

Speaking to the Forum at a meeting hosted by the Bishop of Norwich on July 26, Lord McNally said: “A group like yours has an enormously important role; by coming together to share experiences from your “day jobs”; by contributing to thoughtful and informed debate; and by trying to discern the best ways of helping those in your care.”

Addressing the forum, which brings together a wide range group of people engaged in the criminal justice system from judges and magistrates to ex-offenders and volunatry sector partners, Lord McNally, said: “I welcome the fact that the Ecumenical Criminal Justice Forum provides time and space for a range of practitioners in the criminal justice system to meet to exchange views, and discuss imaginative solutions to some of the problems local people experience on a day to day basis. These are times of great challenge and change for all of us..a measure of ourselves as a just and compassionate society is how we treat and aim to rehabilitate those who break the law."

Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords, Lord McNally, went on to address the Government’s current programme of reforms of sentencing and legal aid, exploring issues relating to penal reform, prisoner reparation, youth justice, reforms of the legal aid system and restorative justice.

Having spent the afternoon looking at how police, probation and other agencies in Norfolk have led the way in its' adoption of restorative approaches relating to criminal justice, anti-social behaviour and community mediation, Lord McNally commented that "Restorative justice has an important part to play, but only so long as it is used appropriately, and that interventions are of sufficiently high quality and there are sufficient safeguards in place for victims. Our aim is to introduce a framework for best practice at all stages in the criminal justice system. Restorative justice is not a soft option… Many offenders find the process demanding and tough. We require offenders to take an active role in repairing harm, acknowledging the impact of what they’ve done and facing up to the consequences.Only those working within local communities understand the extent to which different types of crime are prevalent, and local justice requires flexibility in the kinds of disposals that are available.

Paying tribute to the dedication and vision of those involved in the criminal justice process, Lord McNally thanked those present for their contribution and highlighted the role played by prison chaplaincy teams making a real difference to the lives of prisoners, staff and the wider community by encouraging personal change and rehabilitation.

Echoing Martin Luther King's vision of a“the beloved community” – an activism that moves beyond securing individual rights to a broader understanding of building a just and compassionate society for all people,” Lord McNally concluded his address by calling for more dialogue and more partnership working and an extension of the work and vision of this ecumenical criminal justice forum. "A just society is an inclusive one… It’s about achieving a cultural shift in people’s attitudes and thinking. That applies just as much to the offender as to the victim; to the criminal justice professionals as much as to the media commentators; and to faith groups and churches as much as to those of no faith.”

Forum convenor, Rev Simon Wilson commented:
"The criminal justice forum has been one of the most encouraging and exciting projects that I have ever had the privilege of being involved in. It brings together a wide range of people working hard to make our communities cohesive, safe and inclusive places and we are grateful for Lord McNally's support and encouragement."

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