Pubdate: Wed, 10 Jan 2001
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2001 The Irish Times
Contact:  11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2, Ireland
Fax: + 353 1 671 9407
Author: Eithne Donnellan


The system by which one Dublin District Court yesterday offered 
rehabilitation instead of prison to drug addicts convicted of 
offences may be extended to higher courts, the Minister for Justice 

Speaking before the first sitting of a drugs court in the State, Mr 
O'Donoghue said that when its work was evaluated after 18 months, the 
possibility of extending it "within the hierarchy of courts in our 
judicial system" would be looked at. It could, for example, deal with 
certain larceny offences which came before the Circuit Court.

He said drug courts could also be extended to areas outside Dublin. 
However, the court mainly targeted heroin users, and if the service 
was to be extended to Cork or other cities, the extent of drug abuse 
in those areas would first have to be examined. The Drugs Court will 
sit twice weekly in the old Richmond Hospital as part of an 18month 
pilot scheme and will deal with a maximum of 100 defendants, the 
first of whom appears before Judge Gerard Haughton on Tuesday.

Defendants will be over 17 and have pleaded guilty or been found 
guilty of a drug or drug-related offence of a non-violent nature that 
would ordinarily warrant imprisonment by the District Court. They 
will be referred to the Drugs Court, where supervised treatment 
programmes will be devised for their rehabilitation, with the 
ultimate goal being that they enter employment or education.

Mr O'Donoghue said the new courts would "save" young drug addicts who 
up to this had led hopeless lives. He said up to 75 per cent of those 
dealt with by drug courts in some parts of the US did not reoffend, 
and he was hoping for similar success rates here.

Two community gardai in Dublin's north inner city will be in court to 
effect arrest warrants for any defendant who does not appear, or who 
does not adhere to the terms of their programme.

Lawyers will only become involved if there is a question of the 
defendant's treatment programme being terminated.

A nurse will be present at each sitting to take urine samples from 
those suspected of being under the influence of drugs and in breach 
of bail conditions. Ms Sue Jefferies, a nurse attached to a drugs 
court in Sydney, will advise her on how to run the service.

Drug courts have been operating in Sydney for almost two years and Ms 
Jefferies said she was "cautiously optimistic" about their results. 
She warned that recovering from drug addiction was a slow process.

Doctors treating drug addicts have threatened not to co-operate with 
the new courts unless their pay and working conditions are improved.

They will meet the three area health boards in the eastern region on 
Friday in an attempt to resolve the problem.
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