Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Community Court Live … 6 Months On

by Eloise Peabody-Rolf

In the 6 months since going live on 12 September 2014, the Hampshire Community Court have been busy !  (NB for more  on how I got involved, the set up of the scheme etc  - please see my earlier PP blogs).
Over 30 hearings have now been held covering a variety of offences, including possession and use of drugs, antisocial behaviour, ‘sexting’ and bullying.   We’ve also developed our hearing formats, using the experience of cases to improve and tweak our processes.

From the follow up reviews at 1 and 3 months (progress will also be checked for each case at 6 and 12 months intervals), the great news is so far none of the respondents have re-offended, positive changes have been made in respondents lives, and we’ve received good feedback from many involved in the process - the victims, respondents and their parents and teachers.

As the Community Court is a new model for youth justice being trialled in Gosport and Fareham,  there are many people interested in our progress.  Our newsletter is widely read (even as far as Japan !)  and we have hosted visitors who are influential in youth and restorative justice.

From a Community Court perspective, there is added pressure when we  have visitors, as we want to do our best for the people referred to us,  but it’s also important to explain what we do to our visitors and answer their questions as best as possible.  The volunteers in the Community Court greatly appreciate the interest being shown in the pilot and the benefits this approach can bring to young offenders and their victims. For a visitor to travel and take time out of their day to come and see what we’re doing, shows a level of interest already, and at the end of the meeting  we welcome their constructive feedback.

On November 26  Martin, an advisor to the Mayor of London 's Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC) to meet with the Community Court team, the deputy PCC, Mark Walsh and his senior officers, plus a number of parents .  A mock hearing was run to demonstrate the processes the Community Court team have developed and now routinely use.   Martin told us the Mayor’s team is keen to learn from the pilot’s experiences, as they are looking to follow our lead and deploy a similar scheme in London, so are watching us closely !

On February 3rd we had two visitors : Marion, a senior Police advisor and a board member from the Ministry of Justice’s Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (YJB);  and Amanda, who has served as an Inner London Youth Court Magistrate Member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and has extensive experience of the voluntary sector.  Following the cases they observed, both Marion and Amanda gave very positive feedback regarding the maturity and sensitivity the members of the peer court demonstrated during the hearings, plus the significant potential benefits they saw in ‘Community Courts’ and the contribution they could make to youth justice processes in the UK.

A week later,  Garry Shewan, the Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police,  and ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) lead for Restorative and Community Justice, visited.  Garry was one of the judges at the Suzy Lamplugh Awards Eloise Peabody-Rolf and PC Mark Walsh attended at the end of last year, where they met briefly.  Garry is a passionate advocate of restorative justice, and expressed a keen interest in visiting Fareham to find out more about the pilot, particularly how we use restorative approaches in our hearings, and how we involve the voice of the victim and community.  During his evening with us, Garry shadowed the Peer Panel throughout the hearing.  Afterwards he gave us some candid feedback, and said he was impressed with the team and the process we have developed and are running.  He gave us a great compliment in a tweet following his visit :  ‘amazing young people thinking restoratively’.  

As for my perspective - I am finding the live hearings very rewarding.  My involvement is building my confidence in forming my own opinions and judgements on the cases and their issues, and debating  these with the team.  It’s also a great opportunity to develop my communication skills, I frequently take the role of chair or advocate in proceedings, and enjoy working with the team, victims and respondent, although find some cases can be quite challenging emotionally.  As a team we find we have to be prepared to be flexible in our approaches depending on the personality and attitudes of our respondents and victims – ‘one size’ certainly doesn’t ‘fit all’! 

Being of a similar age to many of the respondents I do find helps me to relate to them as a peer, and I hope being dealt with by our team, rather than an authoritarian figure such as a judge, is helping  them understand why they find themselves before the Court and the potential effect their actions could have on their lives.  From my experience so far, I strongly believe Community (or Peer) Courts applied appropriately, have a significant benefit to offer young offenders, victims and our judicial processes.   With the interest being shown in our activities, it’s great to feel what we are doing is being taken seriously and may influence future decisions.

For more information :
·         Follow us on Facebook : www.facebook.com/HampshireCommunityCourt or Twitter @HantsCommCourt
·         A piece published in ‘The News’, December 2014, I co-wrote :  www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/defence/it-s-pressure-but-put-on-in-the-right-way-1-6475867
·         Previous PP blogs :

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