April 14, 2012; Source: Mail Online (Mail on Sunday)

In the U.K., the Daily Mail recently ran this headline about the policy of “neighbourhood justice panels” to be recommended soon by U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May: “Inner-city neighbourhoods to be given power to hold ‘street courts’ in bid to tackle gangs of feral youths.”

The use of “feral” is repeated in the Mail’s reference to “‘feral’ gangs of youth who bring terror to towns and cities.” It describes the policy as “vigilante lite,” “panels [that] will allow local residents to haul vandals, hooligans and other offenders before them, make them say sorry and force them to pay compensation or repair any damage they have caused.” The street courts will “give local people a chance to administer ‘homemade’ justice in their own area—bypassing formal courts, judges and magistrates.”

While suggesting that these citizen courts aren’t meant to encourage vigilantism, Police Minister Nick Herbert told the Mail, “People are fed up with hooligans and vandals getting away with little more than a rap over the knuckles. They want tough justice administered in their own neighbourhood so they can see people being brought to book.”

“If people commit a crime in their neighbourhood, they should be held to account in their neighbourhood, made to apologise in public in their neighbourhood and forced to put things right in their neighbourhood,” Herbert added. “I see nothing wrong in shaming people who have daubed a home with graffiti, or who have torn down a fence on a drunken rampage…They won’t look so tough in front of their mates any more. I’ve seen it in operation and it has a salutary effect.”

Marketing the concept as “home-made justice,” according to the Daily Mail, the Home Office has plans for 15 of these citizen-led street courts. Do you think that this experiment in voluntary, non-governmental justice is wise? Is this a model that is likely to be imported from the U.K. into the United States?—Rick Cohen