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Last Updated: Monday, 15 January 2007, 12:43 GMT
Community justice scheme praised
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A pilot scheme in Somerset which pits victims and offenders face-to-face has been praised by the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith.

The Chard and Ilminster Community Justice Panel sees offenders explain their actions to their victims in front of community volunteers.

The offenders must admit their guilt, apologise and sign an acceptable behaviour contract.

The panel has so far seen 85 cases, with people re-offending only twice.

'Truly sorry'

It was set up in February 2005 after residents of Chard and Ilminster became frustrated that they could not see justice being done after court hearings were moved further away.

Cases which have come before the panel include an ex-police officer who became abusive after he was caught speeding and a woman who was involved in a drunken brawl inside a pub.

Lubna Crisp used the panel after she was racially abused at work.

"The outcome of the panel was that the offender was sorry about what she did to me and I also saw what led her to this so I saw her side of the story," she said.

Attorney General Lord Goldsmith
I very strongly believe that we need to involve victims as much as possible
Attorney General Lord Goldsmith

"Although you can't justify her action, she was truly sorry and that's what community justice is all about- that both parties can come together and express their true feelings."

She added she was satisfied that she was not going to be assaulted again because the fact that she saw her face to face, "lifted the burden and the fear was gone".

The scheme has proved so successful that the government's chief legal advisor, the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, has visited the panel to see how it works.

"I very strongly believe that we need to involve victims as much as possible," he said.

"If you involve victims at the centre of your justice initiatives, they are much more satisfied than sitting on the sidelines waiting for some court case to come.

"I think the panels of this sort could be a feature in many parts of the country working alongside the regular courts and all the other disposal systems so that we have local people getting local justice."

Victims help decide punishments
04 Jul 04 |  Somerset

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