Pioneering Community Court scheme set to expand

A ground-breaking initiative to empower young people to formulate sanctions for other young people who have committed minor offences is set to be widened after its successful first year.

A total of 52 young people who had committed offences have had their cases heard at The Hampshire Community Court in the last year. Those who attend court are subsequently checked to see if they have reoffended after six and 12 months – of those checked so far, only two have reoffended.

The community court was started as a three-year pilot scheme, run by Hampshire Constabulary, aimed at putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice process and reducing reoffending.  It was originally funded and supported by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner in Hampshire.

The community court meets weekly within the Basingstoke Council Chambers, and volunteers who have undergone training to fulfil their roles, run the court.

Hampshire Constabulary refers suitable cases to the court, and a panel of volunteers listen to the facts of the case, as well as acting as advocates for the offender and for the victim.  The panel then uses a set of criteria to decide which outcome would be the most appropriate in the circumstances. Possible outcomes include an apology letter, referral to diversionary activities, reparation and a face-to-face apology.

Cllr Ken Muschamp, Chairman of the Safer North Hampshire Community Safety Partnership, said: “This scheme has made a real difference to the lives of young people in reducing the rates of reoffending over the last year.

“We hope it sets offenders onto a better path in life, as evidence shows that young people respond better to their peers of a similar age, and are more likely to make changes to their behaviour in future.”

The Community Court is part of a wider restorative justice programme, and complements existing provisions. It does not replace existing criminal courts for young people (Youth Courts).

Plans are now underway to roll out the Community Court project in Hart and Rushmoor in future.

The initiative is a joint enterprise between Safer North Hampshire and Hampshire Constabulary.