Government urged to test Community Court

The Oireachtas Justice Committee has called on the Government to test a new Community Court to deal with local crimes.

The committee said Community Courts not only sanction offenders, but provide remedies for both the criminal and the affected areas. The courts have been in operation in parts of the US, Australia and Britain and have reduced reoffending rates by up to 10%.

Publishing a report on Community Courts, the committee said the courts deal with crimes such as drug use and street drug dealing, theft, alcohol-related crimes and graffiti.

The committee received 17 submissions from interested parties and held oral hearings, attended by officials from Community Courts in New York and Liverpool, the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, and representatives of the legal and business professions as well as academics.

The hearings were told that punishments include “community restitution”, such as painting over graffiti, cleaning a local park or stuffing envelopes for a voluntary organisation — all under supervision.

The report, written by committee chairman David Stanton TD, said the courts could fit side by side with the existing system here. “This approach has already been taken with the Drug Treatment Court, whereby, if an offender fails to complete the programme, he is returned back to the courts for sentencing.”

The report said the model was not just about sanctioning the offender, but also about providing remedies — “not just remedies for society in general but also for the offender who is before the courts”. It added: “That person might be suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, mental health difficulties or undiagnosed educational disabilities and these issues need to be addressed appropriately.”

The report said the economic recession raised concerns about the effectiveness of the courts and recommended a pilot scheme in central Dublin.

A second report, on the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill, said people who took part at committee hearings called for a public awareness campaign on restorative justice — which involves ways that offenders can try and repair the harm they have caused victims.

Submissions said there should be a precise mechanism by which victims’ consent should be obtained.

The Rape Crisis Network Ireland objected to probation officers being used to prepare victim impact statements. It said victims associated them with the interests of the accused.


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