Friday, 12 February 2016

Court closures announced ~ Problem solving courts

Stockport Magistrates' Court (escaped)!
The latest round of court closures has been announced - Written Statement of 11th February 2016.  The Ministry of Justice full response to the closure consultation is also available as well as Responses relating to each Region.  The full response comments that " ... we are moving towards a justice system that must be accessible through online services as well as traditional court buildings."   "Access to justice cannot be defined solely by proximity to a court or tribunal building."

The BBC published the list on Thursday 11th February and 86 will be closed out of the 91 closures proposed in the consultation document issued in October 2015 (previous post).  Ten of the closures are to be in Wales.   Of the 86 closures, 64 will close as proposed in the consultation.  A further 22 will take place but with changes to the original proposals - (see the Regional responses for details).

The Law Society
commented that the closures will deepen inequalities in the justice system - Law Society 11th February - 'We are disappointed that the government is pressing ahead with the closure of so many courts. The majority of these closures will make it more difficult for a significant number of people to get to court, disproportionately affecting people living in rural areas, those with disabilities and lower income families. Combined with increases in court fees and reductions in eligibility for legal aid, many of the closures will serve to deepen the inequalities in the justice system between those who can and cannot afford to pay.'

The idea of  "Problem-solving courts" is moving ahead with the setting up of a Working Group - see Terms of Reference.  The working group will advise on the feasibility of possible pilot models for England and Wales in 2016-17.   The idea behind these courts is to - (a) to achieve offender behaviour change through judicially supervised rehabilitation programmes; (b) encourage innovation in the use of judicial disposals and improve compliance with court orders; (c) deliver a swifter and more certain response to crime and reduce offending.  For such a scheme in the Youth Court in the Blackburn (Lancashire) area see this November 2015 Ministry of Justice announcement.

The Economist - Smart Justice


  1. Well, what goes round, comes round!

    The problem solving court in Liverpool was tried, apparently had some success but was deemed too expensive and dropped. Already there are some problem solving family courts in London which seem helpful.

    We used to have drug review magistrates courts and still do in some areas but they were not properly thought out or supported.

    In the meantime the probation system has been turned upside down (destroyed some might say) courtesy of Mr Grayling. The newish Rehabilitation Activity requirement, which gives considerable freedom to the probation supervisor as to what elements should be included in the offender's programme was surely more than a nod in the direction of problem solving, but because it is framed in a commercial context where SERCO, SODEXO etc need to make a profit on the intervention, few will expect them to do more than the minimum required.

    We do not need problem solving courts we need a problem solving society: drugs, mental health related crime, domestic crime, youth offending, alcohol related crime, anti-social behaviour, all of which are the bread and butter of the magistrates courts, are not only, or primarily, criminal but social issues. Put a judge or magistrate in charge of a review if you wish but without joined-up, long-term support from a range of agencies, which will cost significant amounts of money, such arrangements are unlikely to be much more effective than what is currently available - which is next to nothing.

    An example: alcohol related crime accounts for a significant part of low - medium level offending; in the magistrates courts it is probably involved 65-70% of cases. Alcoholism is difficult to overcome but there are now almost no residential places for alcohol treatment.

    The picture is not universally bad - some good work being done in youth offending and still - just - in drug rehabilitation. There are some joined-up services related to women offending but all of these will be subject to further significant funding reductions as local government and other public bodies see their budgets slashed.

    Headline-grabbing ideas need a structure of carefully coordinated, long term individualised intevention, and that takes a radically different approach to funding and social value.

    1. Many thanks for this excellent contribution. I completely agree that these problem solving initiatives will struggle to succeed without adequate resources (trained and experience staff etc). As you rightly say, given the severe cuts being made to public services generally, such resources are going to be scarce. I do know that many local authorities are struggling to fund anywhere near adequate social services and that the remaining Social Workers are extremely overworked and unappreciated.

      I always found the former Probation Service to be thoroughly professional and dedicated but they became another victim of the dogma of privatisation. Analysis of the new CRCs must await another occasion.

      Another story is the failure to fund Citizen's Advice Bureaux and Law Centres. Many areas (e.g. Levenshulme in Manchester) lost their Law Centres to the detriment of many people in their areas.

      Government has a penchant for copying ideas from the USA but putting them in place here without proper infrastructure. They work better in the USA because there is political will to provide resources where they are required.