Changing the Courts in the UK

One year after opening pilot community justice centers in North Liverpool and Salford, Lord Chancellor Falconer (essentially the UK's chief court administrator) announced that ten new courts will be opened across England and Wales, and other jurisdictions encouraged to adopt this new approach.

The ultimate goal: "to see community courts in every part of England and Wales in the next two years," according to Lord Falconer.

The ten court projects are slated for Birmingham, Bradford, Devon and Cornwall, Hull, Leicestershire, Merthyr Tydfill, Middlesbrough, Nottingham and London. Planners will be spending the next few months meeting with community residents to learn about their concerns.

Lord Falconer's announcement shows not only the increasingly international appeal of the community court model, but the powerful role that national leaders can play in advancing the movement.

I'm hopeful that community courts in the UK will serve as a laboratory of innovation, providing ideas and new approaches that can be adopted in the Bronx. For example, based on the example of the Salford Community Court, we're looking at creating a "Judge For Yourself" event, in which citizens meet with judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys and discuss how the court responds to real-life low-level criminal cases.

We'll be following the UK's experience over the next months to see how our partners are doing across the Atlantic!


Anonymous said…
And there's me thinking that Magistrate's Courts were supposed to be about local justice for the local community. Why do we need a new "community court" when the Magistrate's Courts already fulfil ths role? There's a good debate about this on The Magistrate's Blog.
Anonymous said…
Greetings from Hartford Connecticut...

For some time now, we have been following the progress of the Liverpool/Salford pilot projects and have been truly excited to hear of the progress and success they have achieved. To have Lord Falconer's office expand the project to ten other communities is truly the greatest measure of their success.

Congratulations should also go out to the Center for Court Innovation, Midtown, and Red Hook, who have shared their expertise and expersience with Liverpool/Salford. When we looked to build our community court in Hartford, we looked to Midtown and the Center for inspiration. We took their foundation and modified to fit our needs in Hartford, as I am certain many other community court projects have done throughout the United States. One of the greatest characteristics of the community court model is its adaptability to the conditions of communities with many diverse needs. The ten-court expansion in the UK further proves the validity of this concept and shows how far ahead Midtown was in their thinking back in 1993.

Congratulations to everyone involved and please accept my best wishes for continued success.
Anonymous said…
Responding to young jp, I have some experience of both systems. The debate you reference on magistrate's blog is interesting because it echoes some of the discussions that have occurred in the US about whether community justice equals vigilante/kangaroo justice. However, the practice of community courts serve to confound these fears- public defenders are still as zealous in defence of their clients, the protections of due process remain and the judge still remains the final arbiter, albeit with a renewed focus on outcomes. As for magistrates courts vis-a-vis community courts, I have the following observations (1) magistrates courts in England and Wales are an enviable local court structure absent in the centralized world of US justice (2) the community courts I have observed in the US are much more actively engaged in speaking to their communities through advisory boards, regular surveying and involvement of the community in planning and priorities than magistrates. I would argue that magistrates in the UK do not have access to the same, rich information about their communities that community court judges have in the US. (3) Community courts in the US do not suffer from the same adjournment culture that is killing the English courts. I do not lay the blame for this at the courts door entirely I might add!

The shame about some of the comments on the blog you linked is that the community court movement is all about improving local courts, bringing them closer to their communities, and should therefore not be something resisted by English and Welsh magistrates but understood for what it is: a celebration of and improvement on the traditions of locally delivered and locally accountable justice: the very idea of magistrates stand for.
Anonymous said…
The first Community Justice Centre (known as the Neighbourhood Justice Centre -NJC) in Australia is opening in Collingwood, an inner suburb of Melbourne, Victoria in early January 2007.

Inspired, in part, by centres such as Red Hook in New York and the Community Justice Centre in North Liverpool, the NJC includes a court with one Magistrate who will hear a range of matters, both criminal and civil, from different jurisdictions. In a similar fashion to these overseas models, services and programs at the Centre include crime prevention, financial counselling, drug and alcohol support, employment services and mental health services as well as mediation programs.

In a departure from the existing OS models, the NJC Court has been created legislatively as a division of the Victorian Magistrates’ Court and the Children’s Court, and will hear matters from these courts as well as from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. In this way, our new community court is part of the Magistrates’ Court. The NJC Court Magistrate, David Fanning has a very public role in the community, seeking to better understand the context in which his court is located.

This initiative is strongly supported by our Chief Magistrate Ian Gray, who with me, visited community justice initiatives in the US and the UK in 2005, and saw the benefits in courts rethinking and regaining some of their connection with local communities. In essence, we have developed a model within our existing justice system, anticipating that it will improve people’s confidence in this system, improve access to justice and address the underlying causes of offending. The NJC builds on our experiences here in Victoria with our Koori courts in which indigenous elders and respected people sit with the Magistrate and contribute to the sentencing process.

For me therefore, it is not so much an issue of community courts competing with Magistrates’ courts but rather the development of new models and ways of working which can assist in making our courts and the justice system more relevant, responsive and accessible to the Victorian community.