Towards Justice: Law Enforcement & Reconciliation marks the culmination of over a year of research, drawing on the wisdom and experience of a multi-agency delegation of police officers, academics, non-governmental organisations, policymakers and practitioners who attended our two-day virtual conference in June 2021.
This Cumberland Lodge Report explores the role of the police in investigating past injustices in the UK and contributing towards an inclusive process of community healing. It reflects on how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and sets out key recommendations to improve the policing and criminal justice response to future harms.
The report's author is our freelance Research Associate, Dr Martina Feilzer, a Professor in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Bangor University.
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Part I of the report was shared with conference participants ahead of the June 2021 virtual conference to serve as a baseline for discussion and to provide an independent review of current research and thinking on the topic. It builds on previous short briefings that accompanied three public webinars, recordings of which are available on the 'Towards Justice: Law Enforcement & Reconciliation' Read, Watch, Listen page.
Part II summarises the cross-sector discussions from the conference and presents eight key reflections and recommendations for future policy and practice.
Please download your free digital copy of the full report in PDF, below.
To request a printed copy, please email Emily Gow (Programme Officer at Cumberland Lodge) at firstname.lastname@example.org
The report's recommendations, which are expanded on in full in the report, are:
1. Recognise the importance of addressing non-recent harms
It is vital that law enforcement, policymakers and politicians recognise that non-recent harms continue to resonate in the present, causing further harm and damage, and sowing mistrust and new trauma. It is essential that we apply learning from recent responses to non-recent harms and their relative successes and failings to continually improve the systems of remedy.
2. Review existing forms of remedy open to victims of non-recent harm
The forms of remedy open to victims, survivors of non-recent harms and their families, have emerged over time in an unsystematic fashion, leading to tensions; for example, adversarial criminal justice proceedings and public inquiries based on inquisitorial principles; confusion for victims, survivors and their families as to the diverging aims of these processes; long, drawn-out timelines for searches for truth and justice; and significant costs. It is time to review these processes, consider these inherent tensions, and ensure that they meet the needs of those most affected.
3. Offer alternative systems of remedy such as restorative justice and an independent body for victims of non-recent harm
Different forms of remedy available to victims of non-recent harms have different aims and desired outcomes, but one process which has gained momentum in other areas of the criminal justice system and has not been considered in a systematic fashion in responding to victims of non-recent harm in England and Wales, is that of restorative justice.
It has been used in truth and reconciliation commissions in other countries but has been largely absent in the events discussed during the webinars and the conference. If a review of current systems of remedy were to be undertaken, the value offered by restorative justice principles should be considered.
4. Establish a duty of candour
The common experience of victims, survivors and their families of being unable to obtain information to understand the situations in which they find themselves, is a strong reason for considering establishing a duty of candour for serving and retired police officers, as well as other public bodies.
The lack of transparency can lead to mistrust and the suspicion of cover-ups. This recommendation comes with the caveat that a wider review of remedies for non-recent harms is undertaken, thereby establishing processes which allow such a duty of candour to be supported and which encourage individual and organisational candour.
5. Introduce an Independent Public Advocate
The sheer complexity of the situation that victims, survivors and their families can experience, and the multiple agencies with whom they must engage, is a strong reason for considering the introduction of an Independent Public Advocate. This person would act as a single port of call for the provision of support to those affected.
The role, responsibilities and remit should be distinct from the Victims’ Commissioner and the availability of resources must be examined. Consideration should also be given to the introduction of trauma-informed training to those responding to victims, survivors and families of those suffering significant harm.
When reviewing systems of remedy and considering both process and outcome of any new system, due consideration should be given to principles of restorative and procedural justice in responses to victims, survivors and their families.
6. Reflect on the role of the media
Investigative journalism and an independent and sustainable media system are essential in holding to account those in power and acting as the fourth power in a democracy. This needs to be protected. However, the role of the media in cases of non-recent harm is complex and includes below-standard reporting and the abuse of media power, causing harm to individuals in already vulnerable positions. Calls for changes to media practice need to reflect current standards and systems of media regulation and accountability.
The decline of local media is a threat to public accountability of local systems of power, including policing and local government. Supporting local news media is an important aspect of local democracy and thought should be given to how a healthy local news media could be maintained.
The increasing role of social media in disrupting existing relationships between state, media, the police and the public, and providing a platform for members of the public to make their voices heard, needs to be recognised.
7. Develop learning organisations
Developing learning organisations – interorganisational learning to improve processes and practice and learn from past experiences – in the context of non-recent harms and law enforcement requires a thorough understanding of the particular conditions in which policing operates and the challenges this brings.
Allowing for organisational learning and self-reflection requires a commitment by leaders to listen to challenging views that can be uncomfortable to hear and that may call into question an organisation’s goals, strategies and expectations. This is not an easy top-down undertaking as it requires a significant shift in cultural and organisational practices, however, it could be supported by the new Police Education Qualifications Framework (PEQF).
8. Remember humanity
A recurring theme was that people at every stage of the bureaucratic and process-driven institutions responsible for responding to allegations of harm, including the police, social services, law enforcement and the government, need to remember that they are dealing with fellow humans who are facing highly-charged, traumatising and emotional situations. This fundamental principle should underpin all systems, processes, and interactions with those involved.