Thursday, 27 September 2012

Problem Solving Courts

Last night I had to good fortune of being able to attend an event being ran by my University's Centre for Law Crime and Justice entitled Transforming Justice - Transforming Lives. The event centred around the idea of Problem Solving Courts and how they've been developed and used in certain parts of the USA from the early 1990's. Certain States, in a bid to take a more progressive approach to solving the specific problems caused by repeat offenders who for the most part commit minor offences on a regular basis. 

The American Problem Solving Courts take a variety of forms, from drug courts and domestic violence courts to mental health courts and take a different approach to traditional courts, giving the Judges a slightly different role from the norm. Traditionally in a conservative adversarial system, the Judge can almost be viewed as the umpire or referee, ensuring that the litigants both play fairly and the best man (best lawyer) wins, in problem solving courts the emphasis is on the best outcome and the judge will take a much greater interest in individual cases. Participation is voluntary, so those accused of a crime are given an option, would you like to go through to traditional court system or would you like to try to try the problem solving courts? 

This approach is important, as repeat offenders are often doing so because of specific underlying problems, such as psychosis or drug problems. With this in mind the Judge in a Problem Solving Court will be empowered to use drug rehab or psychological treatments as an alternative or addition to custodial sentences. Rather than seeing an accused once or twice they may see them ten or twenty times, ordering them to return to court regularly to check in. In certain circumstances, upon successful completion of a course of treatment, the person in question will 'graduate' from the program. 

One of the key benefits of this is reduced rates of recidivism, one independent study found that in in two districts with comparable populations and socio-economic demographics the district with the Problem Solving courts had a 42% lower rate of recidivism. 

This more compassionate helpful way of dealing with offenders strikes me as similar to the way that we in Scotland deal with child offenders via our Children's Panel system. Here children who have committed crimes are dealt with by the same system that deals with children who are victims of neglect and abuse, recognising that their problems often stem from similar root causes. This progressive approach to using the Judicial branch of the State to deal with the underlying causes and problems associated with crime, drug abuse and other social ills strikes me as the very much the way forward in terms of how we should think and act as a society when trying to deal with our collective problems and is a much more constructive approach than that of punishment alone. 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Why Study Law?

 So, after a hectic Uni year, with a ton of changes in my personal life alongside the academic challenge, working full time and fighting my way through my law school mooting competition, a good friend suggested a wee trip. The wee trip she suggested was walking the West Highland way. If you've not heard of the West Highland way, it's a 96 mile hike through the countryside of Scotland. The proposed schedule for the trip had us walking an average of 20 miles a day over a period of five days with the joy of camping by Loch Lomond for the first two days. It sounded to me like a great plan, so on the 3rd of June, 7 of us set of on our wee adventure. 

As a poor student of limited means, this was my first holiday for years, it was also the longest period of time I've spent away from Glasgow for a quite some time time. The contrast between being on a lonely track in the middle of nowhere and city life really struck a chord with me. On the second day of the trip I fell into a conversation with one of my friends who works as an insurance underwriter and deals with large commercial projects. What we talked about was simple, the fiction of city life and modern society. 

It's very hard to take an objective look at something while you're on the inside looking out, and I think this applies quite well to city living. Being away from the city, surrounded by nature, with no use for a car or cash for a few days really made me think about how we live today and the significance of both money and law. It strikes me that both money and law are convenient fictions, they are no more than tools to help society stay together. 

I'm not an anarchist, I don't think we need to smash the system, nor do I think that capitalism is evil. What I do think however is that living in a city, we can't help but invest a great deal of time, effort and thought in dealing with moth money and the law (in our system the two are inseparably linked, just look at tax, insurance, shipping, commercial contracts, inheritance etc. etc.). I've come round to thinking that these things are no more than the tools we use for social cohesion, they exist to serve us and allow us to be safe and expect a certain standard of life and a certain standard of behaviour from one another. 

Following this I can't help but think that law, from both a substantive and theoretical point of view, is one of the most interesting things I could have chosen to study. Law represents the rules and regulations by which society functions, as defined by society, what's more these rules and standards continue to develop and evolve. How exciting, with this in mind I can't help but end with a wee quote . . . 

To me, a lawyer is basically the person that knows the rules of the country. We're all throwing the dice, playing the game, moving our pieces around the board, but if there is a problem the lawyer is the only person who has read the inside of the top of the box. - Jerry Seinfeld