Preparations are under way for the launch of the Hart and Rushmoor Community Court next month (June) with 21 volunteers geared up to begin hearing real-life cases.
The Community Court, based at the Rushmoor Borough Council offices in Farnborough, is an initiative aimed at diverting, supporting and educating first-time respondents away from crime through a peer-led court hearing. It empowers young people to formulate sanctions for other young people who have committed minor offences, putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice process.
The development and launch of the Hart and Rushmoor Community Court expands the work of the existing Hampshire Community Court, based in Basingstoke. Originally funded and supported by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner in Hampshire, the Basingstoke court meets weekly within the Basingstoke Council Chambers, with volunteers undergoing training to fulfil their roles.
Now, the court, which launched in 2016 as a three-year pilot scheme, run by Hampshire Constabulary, is set to expand into Hart and Rushmoor, following its success in Basingstoke.
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 respondent and for the victim. Both the respondent and victim are invited and advocates are allocated to support them through the process. The panel then hears from both sides and hears about the impact of the incident, before deciding on appropriate interventions for the young person. 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.
Caroline Ryan, Community Safety Manager of the Safer North Hampshire* Community Safety Partnership, said: “This pioneering scheme leads respondents to a more positive path in life, as evidence shows that young people tend to respond better to their peers of a similar age, and are more likely to make changes to their behaviour in future.
“There have been around 100 cases in Basingstoke to date, with 89 per cent of people not reoffending. That is an amazing success rate, which we hope to replicate when the court launches in Hart and Rushmoor.”
Hampshire Constabulary Rushmoor & Hart Chief Inspector John Halfacre said: “Community Courts are a really innovative way of approaching justice. It is an initiative that has proved really successful in other areas and gives young first-time offenders who have committed minor offences the opportunity to be diverted and influenced by a panel of their peers.
“Cases are carefully selected and victims are consulted about taking part but it does give victims an opportunity to be heard and to influence an appropriate outcome.
“We are really proud that we have 21 young people from Rushmoor & Hart who have come forward to volunteer for this scheme – which gives young citizens on both sides to really make a difference, both to society and to their own lives.”
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).
Anyone interested in volunteering should contact firstname.lastname@example.org
*The Safer North Hampshire community safety team comprises the community safety teams of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, Hart District Council and Rushmoor Borough Council. The three teams are the first in Hampshire to join forces to be more efficient, flexible and cost-effective.