Members of the public will be able to arrange their own justice to some criminals in their area in major reforms being announced today.

Neighbourhood Justice Panels will have the power to force low level criminals to confront their victims, apologise and make amends such as repairing a property or mending a fence.

The plans in the Government's White Paper also include speeding up the time between arrest and court, and make the system more efficient.

Police will also be given simpler guidance on how to deal with offenders, while magistrates will have the power to check officers' use of cautions and penalty notices following concerns that serious and persistent offenders were escaping justice.

The move could see "straightforward" shoplifting cases being resolved in under two weeks, compared with the current five.

It is a basic principle of justice that it should be delivered without delay, yet straightforward cases that could be dealt with in days or even hours are taking weeks and months. "Justice delayed is justice denied, and victims are the biggest losers."

Under the plans, shoplifting cases currently taking five weeks could be dealt with in 13 days or fewer, or even hours where the offender pleads guilty in a virtual court.

A pilot scheme will also be rolled out so courts can sit when they are needed, with some 100 magistrates' courts already sitting on Saturdays and bank holidays.

While most of our members will be pleased to see a role for single justices to deal with low-level uncontested cases, we are concerned about the venue to safeguard judicial independence and that such powers for this role should be for the judiciary only and not delegated to justices' clerks."

The two-year pilot schemes in three areas - South Somerset, Sheffield and Norfolk - began last year.

A further 15 panels, run by community volunteers, will be established across England and Wales in coming months.

The riots in London last year Credit: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire
  • Neighbourhood Justice Panels will deliver agreed restorative justice outcomes and can include the perpetrator agreeing to carry out tasks which make amends to the victim or the community.

  • They are designed to give victims and the wider community much more of a say in the punishments handed down.

  • The panels consist of volunteers from the community, who are provided with training in restorative justice, and facilitate meetings between the victim and perpetrator.

  • The police, local authority, parents/appropriate adults, youth services and victims services can also be represented at the panel meeting.

  • The aim is to agree meaningful action on the part of the perpetrator that meets the needs of the victim, and any wider community involved.