Offenders to face peers

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OFFENDERS who have committed low-level crimes will face a panel of their peers after a major new community justice scheme arrived in Wigan.

The borough’s first Neighbourhood Resolution Panel was launched in Marsh Green yesterday, and will preside over minor offences and anti-social behaviour such as flytipping and deliberately lighting fires.

The panel’s decisions will be based on restorative justice, forcing offenders to do work or make amends to those whose lives have been blighted by their action.

The panel, which is one of 15 set up across England as part of the new national pilot scheme, will also provide an impartial platform for settling issues such as neighbours’ disputes.

Wigan Council’s corporate director for places, Gillian Bishop, said: “Neighbourhood Resolution Panels aim to give local people a greater say in how perpetrators of low level crime make amends to their victims and the wider community.

“Restorative justice is an excellent way of increasing public confidence in the criminal justice system because it seeks to bring about a practical resolution which offers hope of a win-win result for victims and perpetrators alike.

“Wigan is often cited as a national example of best practice for the innovative use of restorative solutions, so I look forward to finding out how the pilot progresses.”

Marsh Green was selected as one of the five Greater Manchester areas for setting up Neighbourhood Resolution Panels as it has reported a number of incidents of the kind the organisation has been set up to deal with, and because it has a higher number of young people entering the justice system for the first time.

The panel will be comprised of eight members of the local community, who learnt about their new role at a three-day course accredited by the International Institute of Restorative Practice.

Referrals to the panel are likely to be on a voluntary basis with the agreement of the council’s youth offending teams, and the police, local authority, parents or appropriate adults, youth services and victims’ services will also be represented at the panel meeting if it is warranted by the circumstances.

The panel is expected to produce written declarations outlining its decisions for both parties to agree, although the exact legal mechanisms of the organisation’s work and the methods by which offenders who do not stick to the restorative justice process will be punished remains unclear.

The establishment of the Neighbourhood Resolution Panel marks a major step forward in the borough’s commitment to using restorative justice, which has been developed over the last decade.

The restorative solutions team’s work has secured Wigan national recognition, including seven prestigious Green Apple Awards, and reduce the number of young first-time entrants to the justice system by around 80 per cent over the past six years.

Graham Doubleday, restorative solutions team leader, said: “Nationally, we are considered a pioneering borough and we’ve led on a number of new national initiatives, achieving outstanding results.

“We have supported changes in national policy, with one example being the Restorative Justice Disposal that is currently used to great effect by the police and which addresses offending behaviour without giving young people a criminal record.”