If evidence were to be needed of the continuing and ever growing importance of ‘the customers voice’ and the need to treat people as stakeholders in policing and the administration of justice in their area, then the latest initiative announcement from the Department for Constitutional Affairs surely provides it.
Two initiatives are being launched which will see local communities help magistrates’ courts with sentencing.
1. New "Community Impact Statements" will allow local communities to tell the court before it sentences about the effect of crime in their area.
2. Local community organisations will be asked to tell the court what unpaid work they would like offenders to be sentenced to in order to help improve communities affected by crime.
These two new initiatives will be part of the Community Justice Programme, which aims to connect courts to their local communities and build the confidence of local communities in the criminal justice system. If there is a series of incidents on a housing estate or in a village that affects residents’ quality of life, like public nuisance, vandalism, graffiti and property damage, community impact statements will (allegedly) better inform the magistrates or judges who deal with the case.
When sentencing, courts should take into account the impact of the crime. But until now it could only hear from the individual victim, not the wider local community.
The Community Impact Statement (CIS) will tell the court about the crime’s impact on the local community so that it has the full picture of how it has affected those who live and work in the area. CIS’s are to be tested in Salford where there are recurrent problems with anti social behaviour and intimidation in some public places. PCSO’s will prepare a CIS when someone is charged with an offence which contributes to an ongoing pattern of crimes or behaviour that is having a detrimental effect on people’s lives. The statement will form part of the prosecution file in the same way as other evidence.
Additionally, the National Criminal Justice Board is taking forward an initiative whereby the court will advertise for local community organisations to suggest unpaid work that courts could order offenders to do in the local community. When completed, a plaque would show that a particular piece of work had been ordered by the local magistrates’ court, in response to a request made by that local community. Camberwell Green Magistrates’ court is to work with the National Offender Management Service on the detail of this particular initiative.
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