Community justice under 'people's courts' and de-regulation

The judicial process will be wrested from the control of the legal fraternity and opened up to local people’s courts. Procedural fairness, the doctrine of precedence and the laws of evidence should be applied and monitored by those suitably trained to do so.  The cost of any court-centred legal process, other than those brought by private corporations and larger companies, must be publicly funded, unless a screening process determines they are vexatious, repetitious, or amount to double jeopardy. Delaying tactics using due process and legal technicalities must no longer prevent the swift delivery of justice. Suitable training and qualification would be required for people willing to serve their communities within a people’s court system.

Immediate, low cost justice, involving ajudication, mediation and arbitration conducted primarily within local communities, must be made easily accessible to every individual in civil, equity, human rights, environmental, or criminal matter.  Human rights and constitutional matters should be heard in the old court system, at no cost to plaintiffs.  Any person may choose to have any matter, civil, or criminal heard before the old court system, rather than the people’s courts, providing any adversary also agrees.

All serious offending, carrying a term of imprisonment in excess of seven years, or involving large sums of money, or fines in excess of $100,000, should default to the old courts and the choice of trial by jury.

Those who habitually choose to live outside the law, even in relatively less serious matters, will be declared ‘outlaws’ by the people’s courts, or old courts. Anyone committing their first criminal offence will do so knowing they will automatically come under an outlaw declaration and may also go to prison for a term that is fixed but tied to a more indefinite period if they fail to respond to an imposed self-improvement programme. An outlaw declaration would lead to the loss of the rights, privacy and other freedoms associated with citizenship (see Part 2/11) until a consistent pattern of behaviours over time proves their sustained commitment to moral rectitude and civic responsibility.   

The scope of the controls, or restraint on rights, imposed under an outlaw declaration will be at the discretion of the people’s courts.  They will be imposed on a contractual basis with the declaration’s conditions reduced as a concurrent self-development and improvement programme’s goals are achieved.

Searches without warrant on a probable cause basis, public shaming, curfews, identity cards or RFID chips and restrictions on movement, rights and association would be introduced under the outlaw declaration system. Automatic and immediate home detention, or imprisonment without trial, should apply to breaches of outlaw declarations, or orders made under those declarations.

Outlaw declarations will apply for ten years with time extensions, or the graduated reduction in their scope and duration, dictated by an individual’s actions.  Any form of plea-bargaining, bail (after a first conviction), concurrent sentencing, or parole system will end.

Justice will serve the interests of individual victims, or parties to disputes, by concentrating on problem-solving solutions, full restoration, mediation, reconciliation and victim closure. Punitive imprisonment will be reserved for serious cases, the unrepentant and the recidivist; particularly when the damage they have done cannot be restored by them, or community safety is threatened. 

Restorative justice meetings should be a features of people’s court methods for mediating disputes and determining victim restitution

In every case where a victim has suffered loss the offender will restore all property or money to the victim, plus a retributive 20% of that property’s value.  In cases where the crime has caused consequential longer-term losses in income those losses will be determined and added to the offender’s liability.  In situations where it is appropriate an offender may be required to work for the victim until the full cost of the offending has been paid.  The victim may waive or modify these requirements at a restorative justice meeting.

A tiered system of people’s courts will be established. One to three person tribunals would adjudicate, arbitrate or mediate according to the circumstances.  There will be a people’s court available for every 4,000 thousand citizens with 10-12 suitably trained adjudicators attached to each. Situations with widespread and serious ramifications (class actions) must go to the old court system. Those adjudicating within the people’s court system must be trained volunteers, with comprehensive life experience, elected by their communities for fixed terms. 

Lawyers and judges should guide and advise in the people’s court process, but will no longer act as the ‘masters of ceremony’. They can provide advice for adjudication and decision making purposes, act as mediators and present arguments or provide advice when sought by the parties involved.  They will become servants of the process, not the controllers.  They will be paid for these services according to a fixed payments schedule.

Convicted offenders must be required, as part of any punishment regime, to use their time, labour and any other resources, to make good all losses incurred by their victims, gain specific or transferable skills for use in society and actively seek professional help for violent and addictive behaviours.  They should be placed under appropriate outlaw orders until they have met these obligations.

Parents must be held accountable for restitution when a perpetrator is their offspring and is not living independently. 

Crime prevention and the causes of crime will be given priority.  More sophisticated approaches to policing involving inter-agency problem-solving, community cooperation, early ‘broken window’ interventions, zero tolerance for minor offences and intelligence-driven operations will be adopted.  Police will be accountable to the local communities they serve, with a component of their pay linked to community satisfaction. 

Orders for specified actions, from the people’s courts, may be applied to the parents of children, neighbours, businesses or individuals engaging in repeated anti-social behaviour.  Early interventions will involve both assistance and bold initiatives.  In parental order situations there will be no implicit assumption that the best place for a child is in the family home or with the mother.

Matters of a grievance nature, not covered by a particular statute, may be heard by a people’s court, if it chooses to do so.

Prison sentences will still be imposed for fixed terms, determined not by the offence but by the need to educate, train and equip individuals for a responsible community life. Sentence would be extended if programmes of rehabilitative action and self-improvement are falling short of expectations. Prisons must become places of work (including food production) and study where inmates learn to be self-reliant, collegial and motivated to respect others.  They must be required to objectively reflect on their own actions and motives. 

No one entering a prison for the first time, or as a recidivist, should be released, without suitable oversight and controls under an outlaw order, if their actions in custody fall short of the goals set for them. While in prison inmates must work in ways that do not undercut local private enterprise (e.g. under contract to private companies).  Prison regimes and design should not dehumanise individuals. Prisons should be largely self-sustaining in food, energy, waste treatment, water storage, heating and maintenance, with prisoners doing most of the work required to feed themselves, while they maintain and operate the facility.

No sentence or outlaw order should be deemed completed until the prisoner has at least a high school education (if he or she has not already), a set of transferable workplace skills, or a qualification.  On release they will be automatically under a ten-year outlaw declaration with restrictions and incentives tailored to their circumstances.

A degree of sentencing pan-district uniformity will be achieved using published sentencing decision tables or records and provision for sentencing appeals on statutory matters to the old court system will be available.