Problem-Solving Courts: Combatting Drug & Alcohol Crime

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What will the Problem-Solving Courts do?

The Government’s Problem-Solving Court initiative gives judges various powers, including:

  1. providing a programme of drug or alcohol rehabilitation; 
  2. a power to include intensive supervision with alcohol and drug testing;
  3. relaxing conditions to reward good progress;  
  4. imposing strong sanctions, including prison time, if offenders breach. 

What is the impact on the offender?

The offender progressing through the Problem-Solving Court will see the same Judge at least once a month to check on progress.  They will have intense support and supervision from the Probation Service.  They will be referred to various agencies in a tailored approach to meet their individual needs, such as housing, employment, and education support. 

The judge has the power to relax the conditions to reward good progress, but impose harsh sanctions, including prison, if the offender fails.  Offenders can be imprisoned for up to 28 days for each breach.  

Where is the pilot scheme being launched?

The pilot is being launched at Liverpool and Teesside Crown Courts.  There will also be a pilot at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court specifically aimed at women offenders with complex needs.  

What do Hill Twine Solicitors see as the benefits of Problem-Solving Courts?

Our lawyers at Hill Twine Solicitors are experienced in representing people for drug and alcohol related crime. We are committed to helping people get the right help and support for drug and alcohol offending. As we see it, a significant concern is the number of people who receive short terms of imprisonment where they receive little or no help with their addictions.  Such sentences do very little to protect the public as the root cause of the offending behaviour is not being addressed.  Accordingly, whilst such a sentence may be considered punishment for the offender, it is highly unlikely to prevent the commission of further offences upon release. 

We are committed to helping people get the right help and support for drug and alcohol offending.

We hope that the new Problem-Solving Courts will prove successful and can be launched in our local Dorset courts, Bournemouth Crown Court, Poole Magistrates’ Court and Weymouth Magistrates’ Court, and further across the South West, to help people get the help they need with drug and alcohol addictions.

Hill Twine Solicitors supports strongly any initiative aimed at helping offenders with drug and alcohol addiction.  

What are the concerns Hill Twine Solicitors has about Problem-Solving Courts?

Our concerns with this initiative are:

Offenders risk further criminalisation of drug and alcohol addiction; 
Some offenders could find themselves punished more severely by the Problem Solving Courts for breaching the community orders, as compared with non-Problem-Solving Courts dealing with breach of a community order.  
With harsh penalties for breach, offenders could end up spending more time in prison on short-term sentences, which is precisely what this new initiative is trying to avoid.  This could be a setback in their rehabilitation.  
Will the agencies tasked with helping offenders be sufficiently resourced to truly make a difference addressing their individual needs?

Time will tell, however, whether the courts are an answer to the failures in the Criminal Justice System to help people with addictions who continue to offend.  There is some evidence of success from other countries, and the Government is convinced they will be effective in the UK. 

Will the agencies involved with the programmes of rehabilitation be sufficiently resourced to implement the expectations of the courts?

We question whether Judges and Magistrates are best placed to be directly involved with drug and alcohol addicts with complex needs, often including significant mental health difficulties. Will they be given sufficient training to communicate effectively with and help address the needs of individual offenders?  There will of course be a variety of expert agencies involved with the programmes of rehabilitation, but will those agencies be sufficiently resourced to implement the expectations of the courts?  There is a risk that such orders could make a person’s situation worse if their individual needs are not met.  They may be set up to fail.  

Our commitment to our clients

Hill Twine Solicitors will be closely monitoring the progress of the pilot scheme.  We are specialist criminal defence lawyers based in Dorset, appearing regularly at Bournemouth Crown Court, Poole Magistrates’ Court, Weymouth Magistrates’ Court, and other courts across the South West.  We will be involved in the new courts as soon as they come to Dorset and our other local areas.  Hill Twine Solicitors will represent people robustly before these new courts and ensure the rights of vulnerable people are protected. 

If you have any questions or need advice