The needs of victims of crime are set to be put at the centre of the justice system in Sefton with the launch of Community Justice Panels.
The service, launched by Sefton Council in partnership with Merseyside Police, is a neighbourhood approach to resolving anti-social behaviour, community conflict and small level criminal offenses with the help of local residents.
Community Justice Panels are made up of volunteers from the local community and facilitate Restorative Justice Conferences, helping to decide on a suitable outcome for the conflict and develop Acceptable Behaviour Contracts that the offender must follow for a period of 6 months.
The aim of restorative justice is to bring together victims, offenders and the community, encouraging the offender to face up to their actions and the implications they have and allowing for the voices of those affected to be heard.
The service was piloted in over 15 boroughs from 2012-2014 by the Ministry of Justice including Swindon, where there was a 36% reduction in anti-social behaviour over the 12 month period, while around 84% of victims found the process to be a positive experience.
Initial plans are for two justice panels, North Sefton and South Sefton, which will sit weekly to discuss cases and Sefton Council is asking local residents to become Panel Members. Volunteers will be expected to provide at least 2 hours of their time per month and will receive fully accredited training and expenses.
Cllr Trish Hardy, Cabinet Member for Communities and Housing, said: “I am delighted to announce the launch of the Community Justice Panel and this further demonstrates our dedication to building resilient communities and ensuring that our residents are involved in decision making across the borough.
“The Justice Panels were held up in Lord Stevens’ report ‘Policing for a Better Britain’ as a model of innovation and it shows the forward thinking of Sefton Council in bringing it to the borough.
“The service will give victims a greater voice in the criminal justice system, giving them the chance to receive more meaningful reparation from offenders while also ensuring that the offenders take responsibility for their actions.
“The involvement of local residents in the development of Acceptable Behaviour Contracts will also help build community confidence that offenders are making amends.
“What we need now is for residents of Sefton to volunteer for the panel and I would ask those who are interested to get in touch.”
Sefton Chief Inspector Jerry Harris said: “Community Justice Panels being set up in Sefton will be of benefit to the community, the police and our partners.
“Sefton Community Justice Panels are designed to tackle anti-social behaviour and lower level crime by adults, young people and children. It allows the police and partners to deal effectively with these issues and avoids bringing people into the criminal justice system unnecessarily.
“I have no doubt the Panels will help in reducing anti-social behaviour.”
Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy said: “Restorative justice gives the victims of crime an opportunity to ask questions like ‘why me?’ This can often help them to get a sense of closure and put the incident behind them.
“Giving people who have been harmed by crime the opportunity to come face-to-face with the offender can be a powerful experience, which can help them to move on with their lives in a positive way. It is often harder for the offender than going to court.
“Deputy Police Commissioner Cllr Sue Murphy has been encouraging the use of restorative justice in the region in partnership with the Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). We are delighted that Sefton Council are now joining Wirral Council in offering these justice panels to their residents.
“I look forward to learning more about the work of the panels which I hope will help more people to cope and recover.”
It is hoped that the Community Justice Panels ability to deal with minor offenses more efficiently will help ease pressures on a number of agencies, including the Police, Housing Associations and community teams.
The Community Justice Panels will launch in 2016 and volunteers will attended a full training scheme in February. If you are interested in signing up for the panel, or would like to find out more, contact the ASB unit on ASBenquiries@sefton.gov.uk or call 0151 934 4910.
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