A KIDDERMINSTER magistrate has expressed concern at the growing number of crimes being dealt with outside court.

In the area covered by West Merica Police - Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin - 3,594 community resolutions were handed out in 2010/11, compared to 2,167 in 2009/10.

Chairman of the bench at Kidderminster Magistrates Court, Jill Gramann, said magistrates thought the figure was too high.

West Mercia Police introduced community resolutions into its policing plan in 2009.

The initiative sees “lower level crimes” - such as trivial thefts, public disorder, vandalism or common assaults - dealt with by police officers instead of through the justice system.

A decision is reached by consulting the victim and must be accepted by the offender. The result can be a verbal or written apology, financial compensation or repatriation or the offender receiving advice about their behaviour.

Mrs Gramann, however, is worried about more serious crimes being dealt with through community resolutions. In 2010/11, six were handed out for sexual offences and four for robbery.

Mrs Gramann said: “In principle we do not have a problem with it. Originally it was understood that this would be only used for a small number of cases but what is happening is a lot of crimes are now being dealt with outside of court. Magistrates and many people think this is too many.”

Superintendent Steve Cullen, West Mercia Police force leader on restorative justice, said he understood magistrates’ concerns. He explained: “The point to be made is we have done a lot of checks and balances.

“In a huge proportion of cases, it is young people involved, who can go on to have responsible lives as a result of not having a criminal record for a minor misdemeanour.”

Mrs Gramann said: “We have to stop reoffenders. Coming to court is more of a deterrent. When most people are in court they do find it intimidating because we have got powers to do all sorts of things.”

She said magistrates were also concerned about proposed neighbourhood justice panels, a scheme which would see police set up panels of residents from local areas.

“The Government is saying they want to make justice close to the people,” she said, “We are saying we are close to the people, if they stop closing magistrates courts.”

Supt Cullen said: “Neighbourhood justice panels are still in early days but consist of communities supporting each other and we would support that.”

Another new scheme - Stop Delaying Justice - encourages trials to go ahead on the day by making it tougher for adjournments to be granted and all information, such as CCTV footage, must be given on the first day of court.

Mrs Gramann said: “If it makes us more effective without compromising justice, then it is a good thing. It benefits the public purse, society and defendants.”

The magistrate said the court was under great financial pressure, with the number of courts sitting in Kidderminster having been reduced by a third since July, 2011.