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Last Updated: Friday, 21 July 2006, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Apology plan for young offenders
Lord Falconer
Lord Falconer believes the justice system is too slow
Young criminals could avoid court if they apologise to their victims, under government plans.

The lord chancellor intends to pilot the scheme in four police force areas in the coming year for first-time offenders guilty of low-level crimes.

The plan is one of a number of measures proposed by Lord Falconer to help speed up and improve criminal justice.

He said the proposals would "reconnect the criminal justice system with the public it serves".

The plans, laid out in a 46-page document, were published a day after Home Secretary John Reid announced an overhaul of the justice system.

'Making amends'

In the document - entitled Delivering, Simple Speedy, Summary Justice - ministers argue that such measures as forces apologies are not "going soft on crime".

Processes both in court and beforehand are often lengthy and arcane
Lord Falconer
Lord Chancellor

"A face-to-face apology is often quite difficult for a young person to do," the document states.

"Getting a young person to apologise face to face and make amends is an important part of their learning."

Launching the document, Lord Falconer said that too many cases take too long to come to court.

"Processes both in court and beforehand are often lengthy and arcane and take little account of the needs of victims and witnesses," he said.

He argued that his plans would mean the criminal justice system would be more responsive to concerns raised by local communities.

Court 'paraphernalia'

Among the plans put forward was "next day" justice, where specific categories of offenders would be brought before the courts within 24 to 72 hours.

This will be tested out in pilot schemes in magistrates' courts this autumn.

Also in the autumn, Lord Falconer will pilot so-called "courts on the move" in three areas.

These courts would be more local, the document explained, by using town halls instead of court buildings, "without necessarily the full paraphernalia of the current courts".

Lord Falconer also plans to get rid of about 500,000 minor cases every year - such as TV licence evasion - by dealing with them in bulk handling centres.

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