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What to learn from the success of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court?

Penelope Gibbs
12 Sep 2014

Why has one type of specialist court succeeded in England and Wales while others have withered on the vine?  In June I wrote of the demise of the West London Drug Court, partly due to a lack of support from central government or senior local judges and magistrates.  The West London Drug Court (a court specialising in dealing with offences committed by addicts) was set up by a charismatic District Judge – Justin Phillips – who had heard about the model from the USA.  His enthusiasm was matched by that of civil servants and ministers to trial the specialist court model in England and Wales.  Its interesting to think about why this drugs court was closed while the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (a court dealing with families with drug problems who are also subject to care proceedings) not just survives, but will be replicated.  The success of FDAC has been analysed in a new report by the Centre for Justice Innovation.  One of the factors they cite is the support of a number of key stakeholders including, crucially, local government and the justice’s clerk for Inner London Family Magistrates’ Court.  FDAC also had a charismatic judicial champion in District Judge Nicholas Crichton.  Both Nicholas Crichton and Justin Phillips have now retired.  In the case of the West London Drugs Court I think the champion’s departure made a huge difference since, when closure loomed, there were no stakeholders who felt they could put their head above the parapet to protest.  In the case of FDAC, there were other passionate champions of the Court within the court system and outside.  Is there a lesson? Maybe, that in our centralised court system, innovation is not sustainable on the basis of the enthusiasm of one, vocal judge.