Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Community Court: Putting Restorative Justice into Practice

by Eloise Peabody-Rolf

So what’s happened since my last blog post, in the Community Court’s world?

The answer to that is: quite a lot! We’ve had our graduation, some of us have had RJ (Restorative Justice) Training and we’ve gone live - plus I was nominated for two national awards!

Graduation Ceremony

The team of volunteers graduated on the 5th June 2014, marking the formal completion of our Hampshire Community Court Training. The formal event was introduced by the Hampshire Police lead, PC Mark Walsh, then myself and 3 other volunteers hosted the event.  We described our training, the next steps for the Community Court, what we want to achieve, and finally thanked all the people who’d helped train us. The Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Simon Hayes, was our guest of honour, and gave a short speech before presenting us with certificates and our Hampshire Police volunteer ID cards.

Restorative Justice Training

Just over a month after our graduation ceremony, in late July, seven of the Community Court volunteers attended a Restorative Justice Training course. “Restorative processes bring those harmed by crime or conflict, and those responsible for the harm, into communication, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward.” (http://www.restorativejustice.org.uk/what_is_restorative_justice/ )

The course was held at Netley, the Police HQ.  On the first day I was unsure about how the course would work out, as this facilitation training is normally given to Police, Victim Support, Youth Offending Teams, RJ professionals, etc, so I felt quite daunted at the prospect! On the first day we discussed what we hoped would be the outcome of this 4-day course, these included being confident with knowledge and broadening the knowledge we already have, understanding the concepts, and better preparing ourselves and feeling comfortable putting RJ into practice.

We spent just over half the course learning and having discussions, and the second half using role play to practice what we had learnt by enacting potential situations. The subjects we discussed included how we would introduce RJ to a victim and offender, how they would act, possible barriers and how we could overcome these. By the end of the week we had discussed and learnt a huge breadth of topics in depth, with the aim of being good facilitators (acting as a mediator) in a Restorative Justice Conferences. Prior to the course there were some things which I wouldn’t have thought would have been necessary or important, for example the seating plan for such meetings - will the victim be prepared to sit next to the respondent?

Going live … our first cases

When we had our first “live” hearing, I have to be honest, I think everyone was quite nervous.  We wanted to put our training into action, but also we wanted it to be successful in helping make a difference to both the offender and the victim. We also didn’t want to let down PC Mark Walsh, he had so much faith in us and had put a lot of time into getting the Community Court concept to this point.

All cases heard by the Community Court are ‘low-level’ crimes where the young people have admitted to what they have done, and this is the next step, when having the chance to hear from the victim to see how they were affected. 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. And through this aim we will give possible disposals or actions for the offender which results from the hearing.

When the Community Court volunteers are called to staff a hearing, they are allocated a specific role. These are: advocates are allocated to represent both the respondent (offender) and the victim (if they are prepared to attend in person, victims are invited to hearings but never compelled, a surrogate or the victim advocates share their views should they wish not to).  The ‘jury’ is our Peer Panel, generally consisting of at least 4 people.  A peer also chairs the hearing, ensuring correct procedures are followed and finally we have an Usher who ensures all admin is correctly completed, for example completion of confidentiality agreements by all involved.

The format for a case or hearing is as follows: first the Community Court advocates acting for the victim and the respondent will be given a short statement on the incident in question.  When they arrive, the respondent and victim are shown to separate rooms accompanied by their advocate. After an introduction to how the hearing will run and the advocate’s role, they will each be asked questions to give the advocate a better picture of what has happened, how the victim has been affected,  the effects on others such as their families, and to clarify points in their statements. This is also the time for the victim or respondent to ask any questions and for the advocates to ease them into the hearing, making them feel comfortable and keeping them as calm as possible.
Whilst the advocates are talking to the respondent or victim, the peer panel are discussing possible questions which could be asked to gain as much information as possible from both parties based on the brief outline they have been given - eg. the case concerns a 15 year old girl who has assaulted her mother.

When they are ready, both parties are taken into the hearing room. The hearings can take place anywhere and for the pilot we are currently using the conference room at Fareham Police Station.  The Peer Panel then enter the hearing room and the Chair will introduce everyone and give a brief introduction. The advocates first present their opening statements to the Peer Panel. The Panel then ask questions of the victim (if they are present) or their advocate so they can get both an understanding and get across the impact of the crime on them to the Respondent.  The Respondent is then held to account by their peers through questing to establish their motivations for the crime, how they felt about it then and how they feel about it now and if they have or are willing to repair the harm they have caused.  The advocates will then give a closing statement before the Peer panel leave the hearing to confirm the best outcome for the case. The outcomes we work with are no further action, Youth Community Resolutions or Youth Cautions. More importantly the panel can decide on up to 3 directions to support these outcomes and base them on the information they have gained from the police, victim, and community if relevant and of course the respondent.
All cases are followed up by having a one-month review to understand progress and the effectiveness of the outcome. Below is a summary of our first case. 

Other examples of cases that have come to the Community Court include a 16 and 17 year old who were each caught in possession of Cannabis, and a 15 year old who caused damage to the family home and was abusive towards her mother. As our hearings focus on restorative and procedural justice, dealing with people as people (not as a process) and recognising the harm caused by crime.  Those trained can also offer restorative justice conference services to those victims and respondents who want them (these cannot be forced), which helps to enable both parties to move on.  At a recent Community Court hearing where the parties were brought together in a restorative justice conference, they were able to share their views directly. 

Overall I believe that our first few cases have been successful, we’ve had positive outcomes and feedback from those who took part, so have hopefully made a difference to both the victim and respondent. In my opinion this is a good way to give young offenders a second chance, helping them to understand the consequences of their actions, and enabling them to demonstrate they have learnt from their mistakes, rather than ending up with a criminal record with all the problems that brings with it. The involvement of the victim can also help them to come to terms with their experience. This approach certainly won’t work for every situation, however I believe it has a valuable role in the judicial process. There is a great deal of interest being shown in the Hampshire pilot, with many looking to expand the scheme to other parts of the country.

National Personal Safety Awards Day

Finally, on the 18th August 2014, I had an email pop into my inbox, entitled ‘National Personal Safety Awards’, the first part of it read:
‘I am writing to inform you that you have been nominated for a National Personal Safety Award run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. Shortlisting for the finalists has now taken place and I am pleased to say that you are in the finals."

This came as quite a shock for me as I had no idea that I had been nominated for the Young Person Safety Award, and to get into the finals was amazing.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust is a national charity for personal safety, set up following the disappearance of a Suzy, 25 year old estate agent, during the course of her work.  It aims to help make our society a better place, they are the “pioneers of person safety. We campaign, educate, and support people to help reduce the risk of violence and aggression for everyone. To continue to fund innovative ways to enable everyone to stay safe from violence & aggression we need your help.”

The Trust’s National Personal Safety Awards “celebrate the work being done across the UK to help keep people safe from the risk of violence and aggression. They also provide an opportunity the Trust to recognise best practice in the field across all sectors.”

Just before this I had been informed by my nominator, PC Mark Walsh, that he had put me forward for the BBC Radio 1 Teen Awards too, and I’d been shortlisted as a finalist - again a huge honour. Mark nominated for both of awards for my voluntary work with the Hampshire Community Court, Hampshire Youth Commission, and the Under 17 Car Club Charitable Trust.

With permission from Mr Priory, on Monday 13th October, I was off to London, accompanied by Mark, for the NPSA event held at the British Medical Association House in London.

When we arrived we ‘mingled’ until the actual ceremony.  This was truly an inspiring event, we were lucky to have the founders of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Diana and Paul Lamplugh talk to us - both courageous and inspirational people.  The presentation ceremony was hosted by Jacqui Hames, and there were other guest speakers.  The ceremony was lovely with each finalist having a short extract from their nomination read out. All winners were over the moon, with some becoming quite emotional! The winner of the Young Person Safety Award was the ‘Southwark Young Advisors’. I was proud to be the runner up, and feel honoured to have been nominated, let alone a finalist!

For  moreinformation:

How the charity began:

Look at the other awards:

To find out who the deserving winners of these awards are:

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