'Problem-solving' courts set for UK expansion

The Ministry of Justice has confirmed a pilot roll-out of New York-style specialist courts designed to keep offenders out of prison by addressing the root causes of crime.
English judge arrested

Justice minister Caroline Dinenage confirmed last week that a pilot program of ‘problem-solving’ courts will be launched across England and Wales later this year. The specialist courts, already widely established in cities like New York, aim to prevent individuals from re-offending by addressing the underlying causes of criminal behavior.  The courts specialise in handling cases involving substance abuse, domestic violence and mental health concerns using non-custodial punishments and rehabilitation tasks, with progress monitored regularly by judges.  ‘It’s about turning someone’s life around and making the public safer,’ commented Mr Dinenage. News of the pilot program has been well received by the UK Centre for Justice Innovation: ‘We know from the research that a defendant in a problem-solving court is a third less likely to commit more offences than those going through a traditional court,’ said CJI director Phil Bowen to The Guardian.

Solicitors skeptical

However, not everyone is excited about the new pilot plan. According to reports in the Law Society Gazette, solicitors in Liverpool have called into question the effectiveness of investing in problem-solving courts given deep cuts elsewhere across the justice system. The North Liverpool Community Justice Centre, which itself employed a problem-solving approach, was closed in 2013 after eight years of operation due to failing workloads and financial woes. ‘Every court aims to rehabilitate offenders and reduce reoffending, and that should be done within the system as it stands now,’ commented Quinn Melville partner Zoe Gascoyne, adding that services like probation and other linked agencies were being ‘cut to the bone’ by the MoJ. Linskills senior partner Julian Linskill echoed Ms Gazcoyne’s concerns: ‘It’s been tried, it has now worked and now they’re thinking of introducing it again,’ he said.  

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