'Sorry' to miss court

VANDALS and yobs should be allowed to escape court if they apologise face-to-face to their victims and vow to make amends, a Sheffield MP claims.

Nick Clegg says so-called community justice panels should be set up in the city to free up the courts and reduce reoffending.

The Sheffield Hallam MP told The Star offenders suspected of crimes ranging from vandalism to minor assault should be given the option of either being taken to court or appearing before a community panel.

They would be expected to admit their guilt before the panel, which would include their victim and community volunteers. They would also have to agree how to make up for their crime and prevent it happening again.

Mr Clegg, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, said that Sheffield should follow the example set by a successful panel established in Somerset two years ago.

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    Everyone who comes before the chairman and two other volunteers of the Chard and Ilminster Community Justice Panel must sign a contract to change their behaviour, and those who break their contracts face an ASBO or other court action.

    Mr Clegg told The Star: "One idea I am very keen on is the rollout of community justice panels.

    "Instead of offenders just being chucked into a courts system, where the community does not really know what happens, they themselves have to admit guilt and admit they want to try to work and make up for the damage caused to the community.

    "Very importantly it gives a voice to the victims and to families, who at the moment are often locked out of the court process."

    He insisted criminals would not simply see the panels as a "soft" option.

    He said: "This is the kind of mentality we have to change - the idea that is soft option is a nonsense.

    "If you actually speak to many offenders, they find it such a tough option to face up to their own guilt.

    "That's what I care about - what is effective, not what sounds tough."

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