Seanad gives approval for pilot community court
Court could be part of ‘one-stop shop’ of immediate remedies for minor offenders
Ivana Bacik: costs could be minimised by using existing District Court structures and procedures, and by limiting the pilot court to offenders who pleaded guilty to summary offences only. Photogaph: Cyril Byrne
The Cabinet has accepted a proposal from Minister for Justice Alan Shatter to establish a pilot community court in Dublin city centre.
Minister of State Joe Costello confirmed the commitment yesterday for such a court during a debate in the Seanad.
He said the National Crime Council report of 2007 examined such courts in the US and Britain and recommended a pilot project for Dublin.
“To date these recommendations have not been implemented. This may have been due, in part, to the fact that such courts are potentially resource intensive.”
He said Mr Shatter believed “now is the time to fully explore whether or not community courts can be of benefit within the Irish criminal justice system”.
Preparatory work would include determining the type of offences to be dealt with. The 2007 report suggested cases of being drunk in public, disorderly conduct, illegal street trading, theft, drug-use and handling stolen property, plus certain assault cases.
Martin Conway (FG) , who proposed a motion calling for a pilot to be established, said an effective community court could be “part of an overall one-stop shop to ensure people who find themselves before the court can get immediate remedies”.
He said it would be co-located with counsellors in anger management, drugs and alcohol addiction, community employment, welfare, family disputes and parenting courses.
“We all talk about early interventions, whether it’s in medicine, in education. I’m contending that early intervention in the whole area of justice is equally as important.”
Hildegarde Naughton (FG) said a long-standing pilot project in Liverpool had been closed because the UK government was not satisfied the money invested was yielding results. She said “we should ensure the potential cost is weighed in the balance before deciding this issue”.
Denis O’Donovan (FF) said such a court should operate on a parish basis or a borough basis. “There is huge scope for this type of system. Let’s try it out for six or 12 months, and in the right framework, in the right areas, this can only be successful.”
Labour Seanad leader Ivana Bacik pointed to recommendations by the Irish Probation Service that costs could be minimised by using existing District Court structures and procedures, and by limiting the pilot court to offenders who pleaded guilty to summary offences only.
Independent David Norris said 90 per of the people in Mountjoy came from the same Dublin area and it was a question of poverty.