'Problem-solving' courts, which tackle issues such as alcohol or drug-addiction alongside their immediate caseload, should be extended in the criminal sector, a thinktank recommends today. Outlining an 'affordable' plan to trial 10 criminal courts over the next three years, the Centre for Justice Innovation says the 'time has come’ for an ambitious programme.  

A paper, Problem-solving courts: a delivery plan, estimates that trialling three existing and seven new courts in the criminal system between 2017 and 2020 would cost £2.6m. The Ministry of Justice's current ambition, set out last month in its £1bn transforming justice programme is only to 'continue to explore' the use of problem-solving courts.  

The Centre for Justice Innovation's paper focuses on criminal courts, recognising that efforts are already taking place in the family division, where the UK's first problem-solving courts were set up. 

The centre proposes £1.3m for a ’court innovation’ fund which would be set up by the Ministry of Justice, from which pilot sites could request support for set-up costs. The fund, which would fall from £500,000 in 2017 to £150,000 in 2020, could be set up so bids for central funds are approved only if there are equivalent matched local funds.

A national practice development service, giving advice on approaches proven elsewhere, would cost £871,000 over three years. Providing a forum through which practitioners can share experience is essential, the paper states, 'because most problems have been solved by someone somewhere'.

External evaluation would cost £500,000 over three years.

Phil Bowen (pictured), director of the Centre for Justice Innovation, said there was a real opportunity to enable the criminal courts to contribute to cutting crime. ’With our courts under unprecedented strain, problem-solving courts aren’t a silver bullet but they offer a window of opportunity to cut crime, turn lives around and keep communities safer.’

Today’s paper states that, on top of the 13 family drug and alcohol courts that already exist in the family justice system, five magistrates’ courts are exploring new approaches to young adult offenders and at least four youth courts are adopting problem-solving approaches.

It adds: ’There is also much to learn from previous trials of problem-solving models, notably at the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre and the Home Office’s dedicated drug court pilot. Learning and sharing practice from existing projects should, therefore, be as much part of the future approach to problem-solving as trialling brand new ideas.’