Friday, 4 April 2014

Preparing for the Hampshire Community Court

by Eloise Peabody-Rolf



Following on from my previous Portsmouth Point articles, I am pleased to say my application to volunteer for the Hampshire Community Court was successful! 
 
 

The Hampshire Community Court pilot is a 3 year programme which will see young people decide the punishment of their peers who have committed minor, ‘low-level’ crimes.  The scheme was proposed by PC Mark Walsh whose research, with a fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, included visiting established schemes in the United States to understand their effectiveness and best practices. Simon Hayes, the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner supports the concept and agreed to sponsor the pilot.

It is hoped taking a ‘community’ approach will prevent young people gaining a criminal record, and reduce re-offending rates.  The thinking is ‘if peer pressure was playing a part in getting young people into trouble; couldn’t peer pressure also play a part in keeping them out?’.  The scheme will also enable victims to be more actively involved in the process, and enable offenders to understand the impact of their actions. The aim is that, ‘where crime hurts, restorative justice aims to educate, rehabilitate and restore’.  Through this aim, we will recommend appropriate disposals, or actions for the offender, which result from their hearing.  These could include a service to the community relevant to the offence, repairing damage caused, educational visits, and central to all disposals would be apologising to the victim.  
 
To support the programme, there are 16 volunteers, ranging in age from 15 to 24, with a range of backgrounds and experience.  Sophie Parekh, another year 11, and I are amongst the youngest there.  Basically the volunteers will staff the court with roles including advocates for the offenders and victims, a judge coordinating the proceedings, and jury.  Mark has organised a training programme to prepare us which we started in late February, and he’s looking to hold the first hearings mid-year.  Our training will cover the judicial processes particularly for youth criminal justice, the role of different agencies, restorative justice, equality and fairness, potential opportunities for diversion activities, etc. Plus it will include personal skills to help us obtain, process and present information, decision making, team work, and even first aid!  On completion of our training, there will be an opportunity to take a BTEC qualification, to recognise our learning and volunteering. 

 
The pilot is receiving considerable attention, and its activities and effectiveness will be closely monitored.   As I was a member of the Hampshire Youth Commission, which Mark had consulted on the proposal, had helped with the filming of a demonstration case, and now am a volunteer for the pilot, I was invited to meet with the Right Honourable Chris Grayling MP, the Lord High Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, when he visited Hampshire on Friday 21 March.  Along with 2 other volunteers, I accompanied Mark Walsh to the meeting with Chris Grayling, Simon Hayes, and other senior Hampshire County Council and PCC representatives.  After Mark gave an overview of the pilot, including excerpts from our film, we had an active discussion on what we hope the pilot will achieve, peer pressure, why we joined, the training we will be receiving.  Chris was keen to understand the volunteers’ views on its potential for success, and was very interested and supportive of the initiative.

 

The event was covered by both the Portsmouth News and Daily Echo, and after our meeting it was interesting to talk to the journalists :



It’s exciting to have the opportunity to be part of this restorative justice pilot.  From my perspective it’s giving me great insight, at times it’s been quite an ‘eye opener’, and it’s a fantastic opportunity to experience part of the judicial system first hand.  I must admit the prospect of the community courts running ‘for real’ is quite scary, however I’m looking forward to putting our training into action.  I truly hope it will be successful in achieving its goals to make a difference to the lives of both young offenders and victims. 

For more information on peers courts, and Mark’s research, please contact me or see :



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