Has the West London drugs court closed and does it matter?
The West London Drugs Court was set up in 2007, led by a charismatic District Judge, Justin Philips. He had seen dedicated Drugs Courts in America and enthused about setting up one here. DJ Philips retired, but the court continued until December, presided over by a very committed group of District Judges and magistrates. All had had special training in the needs of drug addicted offenders and committed to sit on a rota which meant that they reviewed the progress of a particular individual. So the bench/District Judge had a “relationship” with an offender, encouraging them in their rehabilitation and following their journey. It was very rewarding work for the judges concerned, since they could track positive progress, and they also felt that the review process worked to reduce re-offending. But, as a dedicated Drugs Court, the court is no more. Since the New Year it has run for half a day, rather than a whole day and, more importantly, it is staffed like any other court – the DJs and magistrates have no specific training or expertise, and they do not review the progress of an offender they have seen before. So an offender now reports on his/her progress to judges they may never have encountered. It is not clear why the dedicated Drugs Court in West London is no more, nor what consultation took place before the decision was made. But the closure signals, yet again, how difficult it is for innovation to flourish in our courts system, and how resistant some parts of the system are to the specialist court model.