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Community justice arrives in Wigan
Wednesday 31st October, 2012

A new approach to tackling low level crime and anti-social behaviour designed to give victims and communities a greater say in how justice is meted out is being launched in a community in Wigan.

As of the 1st November, Marsh Green will have the borough’s first Neighbourhood Resolution Panel, one of fifteen areas in England to pilot the scheme - and one of five in Greater Manchester alone.

The area was chosen because residents have encountered a number of issues such as youths causing annoyance, flytipping and deliberate fires – the kind of offences which are the most appropriate for the panels to preside over.

Marsh Green also has a higher incidence of youths entering the criminal justice system for the first time (known as First Time Entrants or FTEs) and a greater number of people issued with probation orders, although figures for the area and for Wigan borough as a whole still remain significantly lower than the national average.

As well as tackling low level crime, it’s hoped Neighbourhood Resolution Panels will also address incidents such as neighbour disputes, providing an impartial platform for people to air their grievances and resolve their issues. The panel will deliver agreed restorative justice outcomes which can include the perpetrator agreeing to carry out tasks which make amends to the victim or the wider community. They are designed to give victims much more of a say in how justice is dispensed and restorative solutions sought.

The panel in Marsh Green will be made up of eight members of the local community. Volunteers have already completed a 3-day course accredited by the International Institute of Restorative Practice, the only area out of the 15 pilot areas in the country to do so. Volunteers will be expected to commit for 12 months. The police, local authority, parents/appropriate adults, youth services and victims’ services can also be represented at the panel meeting, depending on the circumstances of the case.

As part of the process, the panel provides both parties with a written agreement which outlines what's been agreed and including any meaningful action on the part of the perpetrator. Panels are not intended to deal with cases that involve more serious offences which will continue to be dealt with by the police. The police can also step in if the terms of the agreement are not fulfilled.

Wigan Council’s Corporate Director (Places), Gillian Bishop, says: "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."

Wigan has been a pioneering area for youth restorative justice for the past 10 years, achieving regional and national recognition for its work in the field.

“The team has been recognised for its conservation work with young people on community reparation projects, achieving 7 Green Apple Awards,” explains Graham Doubleday, Restorative Solutions Team Leader. “And, through effective partnership collaboration, the team has reduced first time entrants into the criminal justice system by 80% over the past 6 years.

“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.”

Referrals to the Restorative Solutions Team are currently made directly to the team at restorativesolutions@wigan.gcsx.gov.uk

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