Wednesday, May 28, 2008


EVENING GAZETTE, UK Something odd happens as three magistrates are getting stuck into their caseload at the East Middlesbrough Community Justice Court. They step down, abandon their bench, walk over and join a defendant at the back of the courtroom. They sit and an informal chat begins, taking on a constructive, sympathetic tone.

"How’s it going?" asks bench chair Sonia Brogden. "Come on, talk to us," she says encouragingly. The defendant is asked about his emotional well-being, home life, drinking, education and a report on his good progress.

A second case touches on sensitive issues of domestic violence and mental health with a female offender. Ms Brogden tells her: "It’s a punishment, you’ve got to do it, but it’s also there to help you. Everybody wants you to get through this and get on with your life."

The two people have already been sentenced. These new community order "reviews" help keep an eye on them, but it seems the main aim is to move them forward.. . .

Ms Brogden, who sits in the court on a 20-strong panel, says defendants need to know that judges care, listen and give sentences for a reason. "The idea is to see how people are doing, if they’re getting the guidance and assistance that they need," she explains. "It’s basically to keep everyone on the right track.

The defendants can feel that the bench, the sentencers, are interested in what happens to them after court."

She stresses: "We’re still the bench, it’s still a courtroom. It’s that balance. The court has to command respect."

In its other business, there are further subtle differences. The magistrates more often speak to defendants directly rather than through solicitors. Ms Brogden describes an emphasis on civic responsibility: "It’s mainly in the sentencing stage to try to say, why have you done it? You’re part of this community. But you’ve spoilt yourself in some way. How can we get you back into it? How can we stop you offending in the community?". . .

She tells how unpaid work sentences in the community court make offenders put something back into the area they have wronged, with "Pay Back" restorative justice projects. "We have an up-to-date list of jobs that need doing for the community in East Middlesbrough, minor repair works, tidying up, cleaning up."

[Neighborhood safety officer Rob Brown says] "When someone get arrested, gets to court and gets sentenced, they’re trying to tailor it to a specific community."

Rob points particularly to community reparation work, like work at the Norfolk shops in Berwick Hills.

"There was graffiti and it was just looking a bit run-down. We ask community payback teams to go in on a reparation order and spruce up the area, clean up, paint and take graffiti off the walls. The people who are causing the trouble in an area should be the people on the reparation order."


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