Renewed calls have been made for the government to pilot specialist ‘problem-solving’ courts amid speculation that the project will be scrapped.
Following reports in the national press that justice secretary Liz Truss (pictured) was abandoning her predecessor’s plans for problem-solving courts, a spokesperson told the Gazette that the department will be ‘moving forward’ with the courts.
However, no further details were given.
In May the then justice minister Caroline Dinenage confirmed that a problem-solving courts working group, set up by the lord chancellor and lord chief justice, had submitted recommendations which overwhelmingly supported the case for the new specialist courts.
Specialist courts were expected to be piloted in 2016-17.
Phil Bowen, director of the Centre for Justice Innovation, told the Gazette: ‘What has been indicated to me is that the new lord chancellor is interested in the problem-solving court approach, though [there are] questions about how quickly new pilots would be launched and funding.’
Bowen said there was clear evidence that problem-solving courts can reduce reoffending. ‘We are glad the government remains supportive of the idea of trialling problem-solving courts and look forward to continuing our work with them to translate the evidence into practice.’
This week the centre published a review of the evidence on problem-solving courts to help inform the development of government policy and shape the practice developed in potential pilots.
The report suggests there is strong evidence that adult drug courts reduce substance misuse and are particularly effective with offenders who present a higher risk of reoffending.
Family drug and alcohol courts appear to help reduce parental substance misuse and reduce the number of children permanently removed from their families.
Evidence on the ability of domestic violence courts to reduce the frequency of a perpetrator is ‘promising’.
International evidence suggests community courts can improve compliance with court orders.
There is also ‘promising’ evidence to support the application of key features of problem-solving courts to female offenders at risk of custody and young adults, groups for whom multiple and complex needs have been identified.
The report also acknowledges practical problems, such as the risk of ‘net-widening’ (people inadvertently drawn into the court system) and inappropriate interventions. It also acknowledges that problem-solving courts are not ‘silver bullets’.
However, the review concludes: ‘Across a range of outcomes, problem-solving courts have demonstrated their ability to make a difference, with the strongest evidence being on drug courts but encouraging evidence elsewhere, notably on mental health and domestic violence.
‘We have also examined the plausibility of new and emerging models of problem-solving courts and looked at the strength of their theories of change.
‘Until these ideas are tested, it is not possible to know if they will have an impact on outcomes.’
Earlier this year Jonathan Lippman, former chief judge of the State of New York, said problem-solving courts in New York had addressed underlying causes of criminal behaviour to prevent reofffending, especially in cases involving substance abuse, mental health and domestic violence.
However, the development of such courts has attacted a cool response from some solicitors who recall the fate of the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre, which closed in 2013 after eight years because of falling workloads and financial constraints.