Last week, the Oireachtas Justice Committee held a hearing on the feasibility of introducing a Community Courts system in Ireland. Community Courts, if established, would deal with low level public order type offences and aim to offer swift access to justice favouring community service sentences thus reducing the numbers of offenders in prisons.
Justice Committee Chairman and Cork East Fine Gael TD, David Stanton said: “Late last year, the Committee sought submissions on the possibility of introducing a community courts system in Ireland. Last week we began our hearings to get the perspectives of a number of interested parties and individuals.
“Community Courts have already been established in a number of countries, such as the UK, USA and Canada. They take a problem-solving approach to justice for what are considered minor crimes such as disorderly conduct, anti-social behaviour, petty theft and criminal damage. This system sees the vast majority of offenders undertaking community service in the neighbourhood to make some reparation for their offences.
“Another aspect of the Community Courts system is the importance of immediate access to justice, in addition to access to health and social services for offenders, which according to attendees at the Committee hearing from the USA and UK, has led to a marked reduction in crime and recidivism in areas where the Courts are operating.
David Stanton advised that the purpose of the Committee hearing was to consider how a community courts system might work in Ireland and that the Committee was delighted to welcome speakers: Julius Lang, Centre for Court Innovation, New York; Philip Bowen, Centre for Justice Innovation, UK; Justice Michael Reilly; David Brennan, Dublin City Business Association; Oisín Quinn, Lord Mayor of Dublin; Tony McGillicuddy, The Bar Council; Ken Murphy, The Law Society; and Maura Butler, Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development. I was very pleased also that Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter was also present for the duration of the hearing.
“The Justice Committee will now begin compiling a report on the concept of Community Courts for Minister Shatter”, concluded Deputy Stanton.