Forfar problem-solving court
The problem-solving court in Forfar originated out of a partnership between sheriffs sitting in Arbroath Sheriff Court and the Glen Isla project run by Angus Social Work Department. That partnership was transferred to Forfar in 2016. The court currently deals with summary cases (less serious cases) where addiction or other issues can make completion of community sentences very challenging.
I am the sheriff that currently presides over the court and have witnessed the difference that it can make by supporting people to complete their community payback orders whether they include unpaid work, supervision, programmes to address alcohol and other issues, or all of those requirements.
At present, we hold a monthly dedicated problem-solving court, during which I aim to use the authority of the court to enhance the rehabilitative potential of community sentences. My aim is to combine the provision of multi-disciplinary treatment in the community with regular court reviews so that I can monitor the progress of the people whom I sentence.
Glasgow and Edinburgh also have specialist problem-solving courts but Forfar is different in that it covers a wide geographical area that is more rural in nature than the large urban courts. While there are no formal entry criteria, there is a particular focus on females and young males, who are often in need of the most support to complete their community sentences.
Where appropriate, I take a trauma-informed approach to deal with people by recognising the potential impact of adverse childhood experiences, and take into account that some of the behaviours of the people before the court are a result of traumatic experiences. A practical example is that we schedule the problem-solving court in the afternoon, when the court building is usually quieter and less busy. My experience is that people feel less intimidated discussing their progress within that setting.
Each person’s journey is different, but where appropriate, I will start off by sentencing someone to a structured deferred sentence for a short period to see how well they comply, followed by a longer period of a structured deferred sentence, with a view to imposing a community payback order with regular reviews. For many people such sentences can be longer and more demanding than a short custodial sentence. Relapses can be a part of recovery and regular reviews can pull people back on track and ensure they remain accountable.
I have seen positive outcomes that have been assisted by the reviews in the problem-solving court. For example, one young woman who had been sentenced to two community payback orders was supported by the Glen Isla Project to obtain her own tenancy and start a college course. She was justifiably proud of her progress in changing her offending behaviour and justifiably proud of how hard she worked to achieve that.
Looking to the future, I hope that we will be able to continue with the specialist court and support people with completing these demanding sentences in the community.
Social workers from the Glen Isla Project have provided quotes from three of the women referred to their programme through the Court.
- “My experience of the Problem Solving Court was positive as it was less formal and it actually felt like I was being listened to by the Sheriff. I felt like they were trying to help me as much as the court could. It made me feel like a person, rather than just a criminal. In my opinion, I believe there should be more problem solving courts to help offenders to get on with there lives and break the cycle they are in. I think if more people went through the problem solving court there would be less repeat offenders.”
- “I liked that the Sheriff looked at me, spoke to me directly and listened to what I had to say. I think that she was fair and she thoroughly went through all the information with me. Working with the Glen Isla Project was a good choice on the Sheriff’s behalf and I have a good relationship with my worker”
- “I still felt anxious but a lot less than usual. I felt safer knowing not everyone would know my personal business. I felt a lot more at ease and included with the Sheriff speaking to me directly. It was a very good experience giving the fact it was court.”
The Council is carrying out activity designed to improve awareness of community-based sentencing options - including informational blogs.