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Community Justice Courts

Volume 453: debated on Tuesday 21 November 2006

My constituency has a remarkably sophisticated and well integrated community network, with close co-operation between residents groups and the police. On Friday, I shall chair a meeting involving residents’ groups from the Dyke House, Stranton and Grange areas and various agencies with a view to tackling problems with drugs. Given the strength of my community, will my right hon. and learned Friend press for Hartlepool to be a pilot area for a community justice court?

The Lord Chancellor will announce details of the new community justice courts shortly, but I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he has been doing in this area, about which he told the House in a debate in June. He is right to point out that the police and other agencies have done a great deal of work with community organisations. Generally speaking, people feel that the courts have yet to come to the party in that respect, and they still need to see how the courts are involved in the delivery of justice. I take my hon. Friend’s point, and there will be an announcement shortly.

Will the Minister explain the difference between a community magistrates court and a community justice court? Would it not have been better for the Government to fund the Crown Prosecution Service so that it could serve magistrates courts properly rather than creating havoc in Macclesfield with the new listing system, which is opposed by magistrates, solicitors, police and everyone involved in the delivery of local justice? I have written to the right hon. and learned Lady, but have not yet received the courtesy of a reply.

I am looking into the situation in Macclesfield and will write to the hon. Gentleman shortly, although the Government have greatly increased the resources going to the CPS. Community justice builds on the best work of magistrates, but there are some additional elements. In the Liverpool community justice centre, for example, local community organisations played a role in choosing the judge, who attends the sort of community reference groups that my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) described. I believe that the community has a role in making proposals to the court about unpaid work sentences. In that way, the people who suffer from crime will be able to be paid back.

From her visit to Plymouth earlier this year, my right hon. and learned Friend will know that there is a good relationship between councillors and the local community safety partnership. Given our track record in successfully using antisocial behaviour orders, dispersal orders and so on, will she consider setting up community justice courts in Plymouth?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work with her colleagues in Plymouth and with all the agencies. It involves not only the police, the prosecutors and the courts but the voluntary sector and local authorities. There is a strong mood in the House, and we strongly back it, that the courts, while maintaining their strong independence and judging each case individually, must demonstrate more clearly that they understand the preoccupations of the community, and deliver justice accordingly.