Officials asked to examine community courts proposals

THE Department of Justice and the courts service are to look into the establishment of community courts to deal with anti-social crime like vandalism, disorderly conduct and petty theft.

Tánaiste and Justice Minister Michael McDowell yesterday said he had asked his officials in conjunction with the Courts Service to examine the implementation of a new report from the National Crime Council (NCC), which suggests the formation of community courts to deal with some forms of less serious crime.

The new courts, as envisaged in the NCC report, would feature:

a plea of guilty by the offender

speedy resolutions

courts located in some of the affected neighbourhoods

quick access to health and social services to break the cycle of re-offending

community involvement where crimes occur

community service work to make reparations

avoidance of criminal conviction if the offender complies with court orders

The NCC report, published yesterday, said the courts would deal with offences such as drunk and disorderly conduct, criminal damage, minor assault, petty theft, graffiti, prostitution and drug use.

“Community courts take a problem-solving approach to such offending using a range of health and social services. Some defendants may be required to undertake community work in the neighbourhood to make reparation for their offending in that neighbourhood,” said NCC chairman Padraic White.

The research group suggested that such a community court be piloted in Dublin’s inner city.

Commenting on the report Minister Michael McDowell said he witnessed the work of the courts first hand at Midtown Community Court in Manhattan earlier this year.

“One of the primary advantages of the Community Court system is speedier and more visible justice.

“I was particularly struck by the effectiveness of the Court in pressing on offenders that actions do have consequences.”

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