'Postcode lottery' over schemes that help victims and offenders make contact
Victims of crime face a postcode lottery over the availability of "restorative" justice schemes that bring them into contact with offenders, a Commons report has found.
While some variation is inevitable, the objective of equal access to services regardless of geographic location has not yet been achieved, MPs said.
They also called for the Government to "work towards" enshrining a right to restorative justice for victims in law.
Restorative justice is the name given to a process that brings those harmed by crime and those responsible into communication.
It can be initiated by either victims or offenders, and delivered in a number of ways, including meetings or conferences between the parties via telephone or video.
The report said progress has been made in expanding the availability of restorative justice across England and Wales.
But the Justice Committee said provision is subject to a postcode lottery and "regional buy-in".
MPs described the introduction of a legislative right for victims of crime to access restorative justice services as a "laudable goal".
However, they stressed such a right should come into force only once ministers have demonstrated that the system has sufficient capacity to provide restorative justice services to all victims.
Tory MP Bob Neill, chairman of the committee, said: "We heard extensive evidence of the tangible benefits to victims and the role of restorative justice in reducing reoffending, so it clearly benefits wider society as well.
"While capacity issues mean that it is still too soon to introduce a legislative right to restorative justice for victims, we urge the Government to work towards this goal."
There is evidence of mixed compliance, with a requirement under the Victims' Code to make victims aware of restorative justice, the inquiry found.
The committee said its attention was drawn to doubts around the use of restorative justice in cases of sexual offences, domestic abuse and hate crime.
It added: "While acknowledging the real and substantial risks, our view is that, while restorative justice will not be appropriate in every case, it should not be excluded simply by reason of the type of offence committed."
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "We welcome the committee's report and will consider the recommendations carefully.
"It is vital that victims see swift and certain justice delivered to offenders. Under the Victims' Code, which was introduced last year, all victims can now receive information on how they can take part in restorative justice.
"In addition we have protected the victims' budget and given Police and Crime Commissioners greater flexibility over the services offered to victims in their areas."