Local justice plan to tackle petty criminals

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Local justice panels made up of church leaders and senior community representatives would set penalties for petty criminals, under plans unveiled by the Liberal Democrats yesterday.

Local justice panels made up of church leaders and senior community representatives would set penalties for petty criminals, under plans unveiled by the Liberal Democrats yesterday.

They would be able to order young offenders to face their victims, clean up graffiti or repair the damage they have caused, under the plans outlined by Mark Oaten, the party's home affairs spokesman. Offenders who admitted minor crimes to police would be able to escape the courts and avoid a criminal record by opting for the voluntary people's punishments. "Compared to sitting comfortably in court and receiving a fine, going before one of these panels will be a very uncomfortable experience," he said. "I want offenders to see the anger and hurt they cause to those living in their communities. But this is not just about punishment. It offers the offender something that a court appearance cannot: the chance to earn back the respect of the community and demonstrate they can act responsibly."

But he warned that serious criminals and those who flouted the new sentences would face punishment in the courts.

Mr Oaten outlined the plans as the party voted on a series of measures to crack down on crime. Delegates backed plans to recruit 10,000 extra police officers and 20,000 extra community support officers using £3bn saved by scrapping the Government's plans for national ID cards. Other proposals include setting up a national police agency to fight national and international crime and increase the visible police presence by forcing plain-clothes detectives into uniform. Today delegates will debate proposals to raise the age of criminal responsibility

Mr Oaten insisted the new proposals were a way of ensuring offenders do not commit further crimes: "I want to be tough on crime and stop crimes happening. Getting a criminal record does not stop people from committing a crime again. Policy has to go to the causes of crime, as Mr Blair said."

But he faced criticism after advocating alternatives to jail for more serious offences, such as sending joyriders on car maintenance courses or even go-karting sessions.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "They want to reward criminals with go-karting rather than punish them for breaking the law. Britain has a real problem with youth crime and these proposals will do nothing to solve that problem."

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