independent

Wednesday 25 April 2018

New judge wants drugs court for North East

Judge John Coughlan
Judge John Coughlan

The new district court judge in Louth, Judge John Coughlan, used his first day sitting in Dundalk to announce that he wants to set up a drugs court for the North East.

Judge Coughlan, who takes over from Judge Flann Brennan, also referred two Dundalk defendants to the drugs court which sits at Green Street in Dublin every week.

Green Street is the site of the former Special Criminal Court and the historic location for the trial of Robert Emmett.

The Drug Treatment Court Programme, which was set up as a pilot programme in 2000, is aimed at people with drug addiction problems who come before the district court on minor criminal charges linked to their drug addiction and who plead guilty or have been convicted of the charges.

There is a short assessment phase and those chosen to participate are people who are serious about wanting to tackle their drug habit and undergo treatment. A participant can opt to try to detoxify in the community or in hospital or go drug free, or take methadone maintenance or methadone reduction.

The participant will come to an agreement about their treatment with the team and will attend counselling and group work. As well as the drug treatment, the participant will be required to take part in educational or other programmes within the community to give him/her new skills or improve skills they may already have. Participants must abstain from their main drug of choice upon admission. As they pass through the programme, more testing is carried out for other drugs.

For each participant a Personal Progression Credits Chart is drawn up, where they get on-going feedback as to how they are getting on in the programme. The programme consists of three phases - bronze, silver and gold. Decisions on the participants' success at each phase is made by the judge based on information provided by the team. Depending on individual needs and motivation, the programme can last at least a year but participants must make sufficient progress to ensure that they move through the phases in less than 12 months.

Last year, the court dealt with 160 new referrals - the biggest number since it was founded. In 2014, it had 144 referrals, up from just 25 in 2004. Last year also marked the first time the court accepted cases sent by district court judges outside Dublin.

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