Headlines: June 5th, 2007



For the first time a magistrates’ court is to advertise for community groups which want to see buildings or part of their district cleaned up or which have other projects that could be carried out by offenders. The 12-monthpilot scheme is to take place in south London.

Under the scheme, Camberwell Green magistrates’ court wants to hear from community groups in Lambeth or Southwark that might know of places that need repairing, renovating or cleaning up. The plan is to give the groups a chance to contribute their views on what unpaid work should be done by offenders in the area and that offenders should make amends for crimes by carrying out work that benefits local people.

Current figures show that each year six and a half million hours of unpaid work are imposed on offenders by courts in England and Wales. Nearly 70,000 hours of work will be done in Lambeth and Southwark in the next 12 months. At the moment the police, working through Safer Neighbourhood Panels, the probation service and local councils engage the community to identify what unpaid work offenders do but the south London scheme will be the first in which a court hears directly from the community. The suggestions it receives will be assessed by probation officers who will decided if they are suitable.

The Justice Minister, Harriet Harman, said everyone agreed there should be public confidence in the criminal justice system, including in sentencing but when an offender was not sent to prison some people thought he or she had got away with it. “Now the public will be able to say what work they want offenders to do and they will be able to see for themselves that it has been done”. The work might be bringing derelict areas and buildings back into public use, clearing church yards, repairing park benches or removing graffiti.

“By making amends for the harm they have caused and putting something back into the community, offenders are not only being punished for the crimes they commit, but local people will have safer and improved facilities and victims as well as the community will literally see justice being done, ” she said.