Rebalancing Criminal Justice: Potentials and Pitfalls for Neighbourhood Justice Panels

Published 13/03/2002
Type Article
Author(s) Mark Oldfield
Corresponding Authors Mark Oldfield, Kent Probation Area and University of Hertfordshire

The coalition government have pledged a commitment to a shift from ‘Big Government’ that presumes to know best, to the ‘Big Society’ that trusts in people for ideas and innovation to mend Britain’s ‘broken society’. While the policy implications of this shift remain opaque at this stage, further work has been undertaken to articulate what this strategy entails (see Cabinet Office, 2010). Five key themes have emerged which promise a dramatic shake-up of the system. This paper focuses on the theme that most closely relates to notions of ‘Big Society’ – restorative justice. In the current economic climate it is perhaps unsurprising that the coalition is supportive of restorative justice, as it mirrors the desire to redistribute power from central government to local communities and individuals. The Liberal Democrat experimentation with Community Justice Panels (now being referred to as Neighbourhood Justice Panels or NJPs) in the run-up to the general election has been highlighted as a measure that will be introduced to combat low-level offending and antisocial behaviour. This is given particular consideration as it involves local communities and victims themselves responding to offending behaviour rather than the state. NJPs, it is claimed, have a dramatic impact on recidivism rates in comparison to the traditional criminal justice process and a corresponding reduction on police time and resources. However, as Crawford & Newburn (2002) highlight, England has traditionally adopted a more punitive approach towards dealing with offending behaviour due to widespread public anxiety about crime and political competition to secure votes. Thus, this paper seeks to explore the potential implementational difficulties and resistance that may come from communities and criminal justice practitioners, particularly the police, to this model.