Speaking on the Courts Bill in Dáil Éireann recently, Fine Gael Cork East TD, David Stanton, recommended the introduction of a Community Court system in Ireland. These courts, if established, would be based on the Community Court system which operates in New York and would deal with low level crimes and minor offences.

“As part of my role as Chairperson of the Oireachtas Justice Committee, I have studied the system of Community Courts in New York. I know a certain amount of work was done on this issue here in the past, and I believe that now is a good time to explore again if such a court system would be effective here.

“In 1993, the Midtown Community Court opened as a three-year demonstration project in Manhattan. When the project began, Midtown was a no-go area, as were parts of Central Park, Grand Central Station, Times Square and other areas. Now these areas are tourist hotspots. In fact, the Community Court system has been so successful in reducing crime it has been established on a full-time basis.

“The Community Courts deal with persons who have committed misdemeanours or other low level offences. Following arrest, the person is brought before a specialist judge the following day on condition that a guilty plea is made. The judge then reviews the file, which will have been prepared overnight, as the court has a very good back-up service. The judge then makes a decision which usually results in community service for the offender although imprisonment is also possible.

“I should point out that following sentencing to community service, the offender is immediately sent to meet probation officers, social workers and others, and the community service begins as soon as possible, often on the same day. The offender is then monitored for six months. During this time the judge reviews his or her file, and if he or she has not re-offended within the six month period, the files are sealed.

“This is a system that actually works. Recidivism rates have been reduced from 80% to 18% since the Community Courts began. The system provides immediate access to justice and it cuts down on the number of people being incarcerated. Business people are very pleased with it, as are the local communities, as it also provides value for the community in the work carried out by offenders. In fact, in November 2012, New York enjoyed a whole day free from violent crime.

“There are also parallels here with Spent Convictions legislation, which was passed recently by the Oireachtas, and with the Minister’s interest in community service orders, policies to reduce the number of people in prison and our drugs courts.

“I have requested that the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter TD, gives serious consideration to the introduction of a Community Court system here and I am delighted that he is doing so. He advised that he is very interested in the idea and that his Department officials are looking into the matter. The Minister intends then to refer this report to the Justice Committee for further consideration and debate.”