The Plymouth Community Justice Court and the Concepts of Multi-Agency Problem-Solving and Community Engagement: A Process Review
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The emergence of Community Justice Courts (CJC) in the UK is a relatively new approach to doing justice. Founded upon the broad principles of community justice they present a challenge to traditional criminal justice practice. This thesis is based on a qualitative ethnographic study, employing an interpretivist methodology to develop knowledge and understanding of the Plymouth CJC. Furthermore it sought to review three specific areas, firstly the operations of the CJC and whether these processes varied from those of traditional magistrates’ court, secondly the development and operationalisation of problem-solving multi-agency working, and thirdly the identification and implementation of community engagement strategies. Observations of the court and associated meetings were undertaken (29 court sessions, six meetings, two problem-solving meetings) alongside interviews with 11 respondents representing the key stakeholder groups, documentary analysis of all meeting information and available guidance on the court, two small focus groups with Devonport and Stonehouse residents (independently) and self-completion questionnaire data from defence solicitors and offenders, all of which was analysed by constant comparison. Findings suggest that there were only two areas of distinction between the CJC and traditional magistrates’ court, those being court-based problem-solving and increased magistrate interaction. In addition, multi-agency problem-solving was evident but hounded by cultural and political differences in ideology and operations, leading to considerable resistance by court based legal professions. Furthermore, community engagement was found to be in need of considerable attention. Consequently recommendations for change and future research at policy, organisation and practitioner level have been made. The study concludes by suggesting that more time is needed for these courts to prove themselves and further attention could be given to applying the principles to mainstream court processes without the added expense of a specialist model.
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