Court shows restorative justice is the way forward

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When a 13-year-old boy went into a school staff room and stole £70 from a teacher’s handbag, it was both theft and a serious breach of trust.

He could well have ended up with a police caution, or worse.

But today he doesn’t have a black mark against his name and can go on to make something of himself and contribute positively to society.

The reason? A form of restorative justice that is being pioneered in Hampshire.

The UK’s first community court, initiated by PC Mark Walsh with funding for three years from county police and crime commissioner Simon Hayes, is proving to be an excellent alternative to the traditional justice system.

In a community court, it is young people who are called upon to deal with peers who have committed first-time, low-level offences. The belief is that it reduces the chances of re-offending and increases the chances of rehabilitation.

In the case of the 13-year-old, that is certainly true. Because PC Walsh says today how he believes that the experience of appearing before others of a similar age has changed the boy – for the better.

He explains: ‘It was quite interesting to see the dramatic changes in him in the short space of the hearing, from showing a lot of attitude at the beginning, to at the end showing some kind of remorse for the victim and seeing what he had done wrong.’

Ordered to repay the money he stole and to write a letter of apology to his victim, he was also required, with mentoring, to serve as a peer jury member himself.

So a boy who could have been given a caution and ended up re-offending has instead shown he realises the error of his ways and that he can still be trusted.

He has not been in trouble since. Meanwhile the teacher from whom he took the money can feel satisfied with the outcome.

We fully support the community court initiative and hope it continues to achieve such positive results.

And we look forward to the day when it is rolled out across the country as the norm when dealing with this kind of crime.