Should Dublin have a community court? Our starting point at the Centre is what problem do you seek to fix. Whenever you go to a new jurisdiction, it is our duty to ensure that we are not providing an answer in search of a problem. Ireland's crime rate has fallen. Compared to the UK, and especially compared to the USA, its prison population per population is low.
And yet, in the two days Julius Lang and I spent in Dublin, there was a sense from residents, business leaders and others (especially those captured on this Irish radio show) that all was not as it could be: alcohol related violence and anti-social behaviour in the city centre, drug dealing in the open and a general sense that there were certain streets in the centre of town that people just did not feel were safe.
Moreover, there was also a frustration that justice was too slow and that the mandates given by courts were not as effective as they could be for low level crime. Hearteningly, there was very little call for what in the UK can often be the popular response: longer prison sentences. We found widespread agreement that severity was not the answer and, almost without us having to say it, two of the key tenets, immediacy and certainty, of the community court model were suggested without us having to promote them. What we heard from the array of people we spoke to confirmed that they understood, as the new Mayor of New York City recently said, "The fundamental idea” behind community courts is that “the way to fight crime is with the community...Community courts epitomize... a progressive approach to public safety.”
There was a great resonance in Dublin to the idea that sanctions needed to be combined with help and an enthusiasm that immedicacy combined with procedural fairness may help persistent offenders desist from crime. In giving evidence at the Oireachtas and in our seminars convened by the Dublin City Business Association, we encountered a mature and sensible debate about the public safety issues facing Ireland and a positive but realistic ambition that a community court may help tackle some of the issues facing Dublin. As the chair of the Justice, Defence and Equality Committee, David Stanton TD, said at the end of the committee session, the notion of a community court has "a fair wind behind it" and we at the Centre are thrilled to have helped them fill their sails.