Lobbying for problem-solving courts green light

Originally published in The Times Brief

Jonathan Ames and Frances Gibb


Ministers face mounting pressure today to proceed with American-style problem-solving courts in which judges play an active role in sending offenders for treatment.


A coalition of former judges, academics and lawyers from a wide range of penal and rehabilitative organisations call on the lord chancellor to proceed with pilots as previously pledged.


The 36 signatories to the letter in The Times say that although problem-solving courts “are not silver bullets”, they have proved effective in cutting reoffending.
They include Lord Carlile, QC, Judge Michael Findlay Baker, Judge Nick Crichton and Malcolm Richardson, chairman of the Magistrates’ Association.


The most senior family judge in the UK, Sir James Munby, recently said that there must be “no pulling back” from plans to introduce a problem-solving approach.


The call coincides with the publication of a report today urging government backing for ten pilot projects across England and Wales as well as for existing drug and alcohol problem-solving courts. Judge Michael Findlay Baker, QC, a retired crown court judge and founder of the St Albans crown court project, called Choices and Consequences, said: “The benefits of these programmes and the lessons to be learnt from them should be more widely shared, particularly with those seeking to set up new problem-solving courts.”


The report from the Centre for Justice Innovation outlines a plan of action for extending the small network of present problem-solving courts. In American 20 states have adopted the approach.


The report says that despite support from senior judges and previously from ministers there has been “a lack of detailed plans for expected specialist court pilots announced by the government in May”.