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Home > Problem solving justice – establishing a community court in Dublin.

Connolly, Johnny (2014) Problem solving justice – establishing a community court in Dublin. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 49, Spring 2014, pp. 18-19.

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 The Dublin City Business Association (DCBA) has called for the establishment of a community court as a means of addressing low-level crimes such as vandalism, theft, anti-social behaviour, drug use and drug dealing in the capital. Addressing a seminar organised by the DCBA in January 2014, its CEO David Brennan said:

 
We seek a system that manages the individual and not the process. We envisage a non-adversarial justice system that deals with the underlying causes of the offences and seeks to help the person and provide relevant support services to the perpetrators of these low level crimes and reduce reoffending. We ask the Government to consider establishing a working committee to establish a pilot for Community Courts in the capital.1
 
The seminar also heard presentations from Julius Lang of the Centre for Court Innovation in New York and from Phil Bowen of its affiliate organisation in the UK.2 Following the seminar both speakers addressed the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality which had convened a meeting to discuss the feasibility of introducing such a community court system.3
 
There are currently more than sixty community courts in operation internationally, mostly in the United States where they began, but more recently in South Africa, England, Wales and Scotland, Australia and Canada.4 In a 2007 report making the case for community courts in Ireland,5 the National Crime Council (NCC) recommended the establishment of such a court in Dublin’s inner city to deal with ‘quality of life offences committed in the Store Street and Pearse Street Garda station catchment areas’ (p.7).
 
Community courts, sometimes called community justice centres, have a number of common characteristics that differentiate them from traditional courts. In particular, according to the NCC report, community courts:
 
·         are designed to help defendants to solve the problems that underlie their criminal behavior;
·         hold them to account for the specific incidents that brought them to court;
·         consult with the local stakeholders to set and accomplish priorities;
·         are pro-active in preventing crime rather than merely responding when crime has occurred;
·         bring the criminal justice agencies (courts, prosecutors, defence lawyers and police) into close co-ordination to address community issues; and
·         strive to create an atmosphere which is conducive to engaging communities. (p.16)
 
With regard to the last objective, community courts are normally located in a particular locality and their jurisdiction is limited to that neighbourhood. They are presided over by a dedicated judge who, as a consequence, can develop an in-depth understanding of the problems in the area and a familiarity with local stakeholders,supports and services. The logic behind this approach was explained by Julius Lang in describing to the Oireachtas Committe the setting up of the first community court in Times Square, New York, in the early 1990s. The crime problem facing Times Square was ‘a combination of complex social, economic, health and other issues and, as such, it defies easy solutions. … It was a type of crime that did its damage through an accumulation of relatively small but constant insults to the social fabric’ (p.3). Times Square had become a ‘mecca for the small and ugly, including street prostitution, open-air drug dealing, drunken brawling, assaults, shoplifting and illegal street trading’ (p.4). The model adopted in response was
 
a court with a geographic focus which would harness the power of the justice system to work with the community to solve local problems. …typical punishment consists of a combination of a community restitution assignment and mandated social services. These responses are delivered quickly, not days or weeks after the fact, often on the same day or next day after sentencing. (p.4)
 
Evaluations of community courts have provided mixed results. Philip Bowen, in his presentation to the Oireachtas Committee, explained that various evaluations have found that community courts can lead to reductions in the use of jail sentences, increased compliance with community-based court orders, decreases in crime such as prostitution and illegal street trading and positive cost-benefit outcomes. On the other hand, the recent closure of the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre was prompted by the low caseload coming before the court and the finding that the project did not reduce re-offending at any greater a rate than the UK average.4
 
In advocating the establishment of a community court in Dublin, the NCC recommend that its remit should primarily involve responding to public order offences, most of which, the evidence shows, are alcohol related.6 In response to drug-related offences, a community court could also function as a gateway to treatment services, or indeed, to the Drug Treatment Court, which has been operating in the city for many years. Substance-related crime and anti-social behavior in Dublin city centre is not a new phenomenon, but it is one that has attracted a great deal of attention in recent years.7 The establishment of a community court might represent a novel approach to this old issue. 
    
 
1.     Dublin City Business Association (2014, 29 January) Dublin City Business Association calls for a working committee to establish community courts for the capital. Press release issued by the DCBA at its seminar in Dublin.  
3.     Lang J and Bowen P (2014, 29 January) Parliamentary Debates Dáil Éireann (Official report: unrevised). Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality debate. Community courts system: discussion. http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/
4.     Henry K and Kralstein D (2011) Community courts: the research literature. A review of findings. Washington: US Bureau of Justice Assistance. www.courtinnovation.org/research/community-court-research-literature
5.     National Crime Council (2007) Problem solving justice: the case for community courts in Ireland. Dublin: Stationery Office.
6.     See article on Probation Service report in this issue. See also: Institute of Criminology (2003) Public order offences in Ireland: a report by the Institute of Criminology, Faculty of Law, University College Dublin for the National Crime Council. Dublin: Stationery Office. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/5437
7.     Strategic Response Group (2012) A better city for all: a partnership approach to address public substance misuse and perceived anti-social behaviour in Dublin city centre. Dublin: Strategic Response Group. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/17769 
Item Type
Article
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Harm reduction, Crime prevention
Issue Title
Issue 49, Spring 2014
Date
April 2014
Page Range
pp. 18-19
Publisher
Health Research Board
Volume
Issue 49, Spring 2014
EndNote
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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