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From the Law Society

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A success we could build on

Problem-solving courts are proving to be very successful.

These courts have a focus on helping those offenders who so choose to deal with the issues that have led to their offending. In doing so, they enhance both the provision of and access to justice.

What we are seeing from the courts is a significant number of people leaving what some have described as a “revolving door”, where people offend, go to court, get sentenced, offend, go to court, get sentenced – and just keep going down that track. Problem-solving courts are helping people move out of that “revolving door” by addressing various areas in their lives.

This issue of LawTalk looks at one of the specialist courts that is currently operating in New Zealand – Wellington’s Special Circumstances Court.

What we are seeing as a result of this court in Wellington is a significant drop in reoffending by those who agree to the management and resourcing that the court provides. We are seeing examples of people completely turning their lives around. Even one such event is an achievement to be celebrated. And we are seeing not just one, but many.

Based on the results that the Special Circumstances Court is achieving, it may well be appropriate for us to look at expanding this approach to dealing with offending in New Zealand.

If we did this, it would be an outstanding way of honouring the memory of one of New Zealand’s most notable defence lawyers, Greg King.

In a paper entitled A New Kind Of Court, written while he was in the United States on an Eisenhower Fellowship, he set out the case for New Zealand establishing what he called a “Management Court”.

Mr King’s vision was setting up a problem-solving court which would have “wide powers to provide an unprecedented level of judicial oversight and management of offenders in the community, including those who are re-entering society after being released from prison.”

Such a court would not only benefit offenders, victims of crime and society as a whole, it “would save us a fortune as it would be a real and viable alternative to imprisonment in a large number of cases,” Mr King said.

“Cards on the table, my major problem with the current New Zealand system is very simply that we send far too many people to prison. The Management Court model I am proposing is based on my experience and learning as a frontline criminal defence lawyer in New Zealand over the last 19 years and from what I have seen and researched here in the USA across eight separate states.”

Now that we have the experience that demonstrates the success of problem-solving courts such as the Auckland and Wellington Special Circumstances Court and the Auckland Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court, perhaps the time has come to enhance and extend the model, along the lines Mr King suggested not long before his death.

“A single Management Court could adequately and more effectively and efficiently address the totality of an offender’s problems whatever they may be,” he said.

“Recognising that many offenders suffer from more than one type of criminality problem (many drug addicts also have mental health difficulties and so on), I believe a wider, more holistic focus is required in New Zealand.”

Mr King’s vision is along the lines suggested in the recently published book Therapeutic Jurisprudence: New Zealand Perspectives (ISBN 978-0-86472-952-1). “A more therapeutic model of dealing with criminal offending would be to incorporate the best parts of these specialist courts into the mainstream court system,” Francine Timmins writes in Chapter 6 of the Warren Brookbanks edited book.

Further development of New Zealand’s very successful problem-solving courts is something I, too, would like to commend to the profession and to the wider New Zealand community.

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