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Irelands drug courts to be axed by the end of the year

THE country’s only specialist drug court is set to be axed before the end of 2009 because of its poor success rate – just 26 offenders have completed the full programme over the past nine years.

The Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard that the future of the Drug Treatment Court in Dublin is in no victim no crime cannabis marijuanaserious doubt after latest figures show the number of offenders successfully completing its programme is just 20% of official targets.

Although there were official plans to expand the courts to all parts of the capital, the top civil servant in the Department of Justice, Seán Aylward, hinted that the court was likely to be discontinued following a major review of its operation due to be completed before the end of the year.

The Comptroller & Auditor General, John Buckley, said participation in the scheme was low, while just 53% of offenders who applied were considered suitable and eligible for the programme. A total of 323 cases were referred to the court between January 2001 and July 2008 – an average of just 43 per year.

The C&AG said it was envisaged the court would handle about 100 cases during a 12-month pilot phase when it was established in 2001. In fact, just 37 offenders were admitted during the trial period.

Mr Buckley expressed concern that 83% of offenders admitted on the programme failed to complete it.

The Drug Treatment Court was put on a permanent footing in 2006 in the Dublin 1 and 7 postal districts. The court is overseen by a District Court judge, who is assisted by a team comprising of a probation officer, a nurse, an education co-ordinator, a court official and two gardaí.

Accused parties are eligible if they have no history of violent crime, are willing to join the programme and are already attending a registered clinic.

Plans are developed for each participant who has to appear before the court on a regular basis and undergo regular drug testing.

Seán Aylward admitted he was disappointed that the performance of the specialist court had fallen well below expected targets.

“I’m not personally convinced any longer that it is the way to go. Frankly, it was started with the best intentions but I don’t think its production level justifies extending the model,” he said

By Seán McCárthaigh