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Sheriffs in NI to discuss problem-solving courts


Nov 23, 2021

Three sheriffs are to travel to Belfast next week to share their experience of the Glasgow problem solving courts with representatives from the Northern Irish justice system.


Sheriff Lindsay Wood, Sheriff Iain Fleming and Sheriff Gerry Bonnar are to meet with the Director of Rehabilitation at the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI), the Director of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service and staff at the Substance Misuse Court (SMC) based at Laganside Court in Belfast.  

The Glasgow Drug Court was set up in 2001, while the Glasgow Alcohol Court has been operating since February 2018. 

Speaking about the Drug Court, Sheriff Lindsay Wood said: “I have sat in the Drug Court for many years and in my experience it is a success. There is benefit for the people who have offended who come to the court with a long standing drug addiction. There is benefit for the public purse, for victims and their families, for the NHS, for the prison estate and for society at large.”

Sheriff Fleming and Sheriff Bonnar both preside over the Glasgow Alcohol Court which aims to reduce rates of offending. Speaking about the impact of the Court, Sheriff Fleming said: “If you help individuals to address their alcohol issues, then you can often address their criminality, as well as a range of other issues that they may be experiencing.”

Sheriff Bonnar said: “Many of these individuals are caught in a cycle of addiction and offending. The Court therefore takes a problem-solving approach and integral to this approach is the relationship between the judge and the offender. Individuals appear before the same sheriff throughout and are given the opportunity to interact directly with the bench. Compliance is maintained through intensive judicial monitoring, encouragement and support.”

PBNI Director of Rehabilitation Geraldine O’Hare explained that drug and alcohol misuse was a growing problem within Northern Ireland, saying: “Figures show a 13% increase in the number of visits to needle and syringe exchange schemes, a doubling of drug-related deaths among males over the last 10 years, and estimates of substance dependency directly linked to offending in 76% of cases within PBNI. Organisations within the criminal justice system have been involved in a number of projects to tackle substance misuse, including the Substance Misuse Court.”

Glyn Capper Director of NICTS said: “We are delighted to be able to hear about the experience of Scottish judges who have worked for many years in the drug and alcohol courts in Glasgow. The essence of problem-solving justice courts is their proficiency in adapting to individual need and that of local communities. The research that has been undertaken highlights that the SMC service’s individualised approach to justice, with an emphasis on outcomes, has made it one of the most successful legal innovations in recent years.”