Hampshire PC hopes ‘peer court’ is the way forward

JUSTICE PC Mark Walsh with members of the first mock peer court at the University of Portsmouth including 'Judge' Casey Taylor, centre
JUSTICE PC Mark Walsh with members of the first mock peer court at the University of Portsmouth including 'Judge' Casey Taylor, centre
23/11/2016 (DR)

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A POLICE officer has set up the first mock youth community court in Hampshire in his bid to transform the way some young criminals are dealt with.

PC Mark Walsh held the event with 18 young volunteers in the University of Portsmouth’s court room.

The group was filmed taking part in a mock hearing of a real case in which the offender had damaged a victim’s car while drunk.

The ‘peer court’ ruled that because it was the ‘criminal’s’ first offence, they should be ordered to pay for the damage, take part in community service and an education workshop.

It is part of a pilot project PC Walsh hopes to run in south-east Hampshire to enable young people to decide punishments for peers committing their first crime – if it is a minor offence.

The film will be used to help train up to 30 volunteers in the hope the first court can be set up early next year.

PC Walsh said: ‘We are not a criminal court, we are not seeking to replace the magistrates’ court, we are simply seeking to enhance the police’s out-of-court disposal process, to empower the community and young people to resolve issues in their community.

Lee Goreham, 24, a member of Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Hayes’ Youth Commission, was among those taking part.

He said: ‘It’s a brilliant idea. The good thing about it is the offender gets to speak to the victim so they can actually see how they have affected the victim.’

PC Walsh will next month visit the USA to research how peer courts work.

The father-of-two was earlier this year awarded one of 125 travelling fellowships from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to fund his research project.

He added: ‘I have spoken to 362 young people in the last two years and 100 per cent of them have said peer pressure played a part in their offending.

‘If peer pressure does play a part in offending we want to see if it can play a part in keeping kids out of trouble too.

‘Research from America shows these kind of peers schemes have reduced reoffending to between six and 12 per cent and the cases are 90 per cent cheaper than the traditional court system.’