Gove plans to introduce US-style 'problem-solving' courts

Gove plans to introduce US-style ‘problem-solving’ courts so judges and magistrates can take a hands-on role in helping offenders beat drug or alcohol addictions’

5 December 2015

Originally published in The Daily Mail

Sam Tonkin

Justice Secretary Michael Gove wants judges and magistrates to help offenders beat drug or alcohol addictions by introducing American-style ‘problem-solving’ courts.


He said members of the judiciary were ‘very supportive’ of the idea, which he tabled after a visit to the US. It would see judges and magistrates play a more active role in monitoring rehabilitation.


Specialist courts would be set up with the aim of tackling drugs, alcohol and domestic abuse, meaning judges would see a criminal several times rather than during just trial and sentencing.


According to The Times, Mr Gove is said to have told magistrates that he was aware that many of them ‘care a great deal about the rehabilitation of the people who appear in front of you in court and want to play a bigger part in that process.’


Though previous attempts to introduce ‘problem-solving’ courts have failed to gain momentum, in part due to the concerns of judiciary, Mr Gove said he was optimistic they were now on board.


He added: ‘We can only do this with the support and collaboration of the judiciary and the lord chief justice.


‘They are very supportive of the idea but we must ensure this proceeds with the lord chief justice leading it as much as me, and the magistracy.’


A pilot problem-solving initiative was run at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court for a number of years but the scheme was never extended nationwide.


Earlier this week Mr Gove revealed that a £1,200 ‘justice tax’ would be scrapped after just nine months.


The fee, which costs criminals a minimum of £150, will no longer apply from December 24, he said.


More than 50 magistrates are understood to have resigned in protest over the charge.


One woman stole four Mars bars worth 75p after her benefits were stopped and was ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge on top of her £73 fine, £85 costs, a £20 victim surcharge and 75p compensation.


A 26-year-old homeless man was ordered to pay £150 criminal courts charge and a £15 victim surcharge after stealing a can of Red Bull.


There is also evidence the controversial charges encouraged people to plead guilty because of the punitive costs of challenging a case in court.


The criminal courts charge was introduced by Mr Gove’s predecessor Chris Grayling during the coalition government to help towards the running of the courts system.


Meanwhile, Mr Gove’s talks with the judiciary about American-style courts coincides with the release of a Centre for Justice Innovation report next week.

Highlighting evidence that criminal courts are failing to adequately deal with domestic abuse cases, it recommends the introduction of a network of courts solely for the purpose of tackling the problem.


It calls for ‘one judge, one family’ domestic abuse courts so that a judge can hear criminal, civil and family cases in one place rather than witnesses having to appear in separate courts.


The report says victims are also often reluctant to testify despite a 34 per cent increase in incidents brought to the attention of police since 2007.