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Problem-solving courts (PSC) are a problem-solving approach targeting the complex needs of individuals within the criminal or family justice systems. Over the last 20 years, PSC have been introduced into the UK to address the personal, social and structural factors underlying behavioural issues that often contribute to re-offending. In June 2023, the Ministry of Justice launched three courts with problem-solving approaches referred to as Intensive Supervision Courts (ISC).  The Ministry of Justice has commissioned the evaluations of these courts.

Focusing on rehabilitative outcomes, PSC combine intervention programmes with judicial oversight through regular reviews. By placing judges and magistrates at the centre of rehabilitation, PSC target individuals or families with complex needs, who might not benefit from standard court proceedings and supervision, with an aim to improve long-term life outcomes.  

This POSTnote provides an overview of PSC in England and Wales. It outlines different PSC and courts with PSC elements that operate within adult criminal courts, family courts and youth courts across England and Wales, drawing data from case studies in the UK and, where relevant, internationally. It also discusses potential challenges to fully implement PSC and their approaches as well as opportunities for more effective implementation of PSC across England and Wales.


Key points  

  • Key elements of PSC include intensive intervention programmes, that seek to address underlying social and health issues through regular judicial monitoring and cross-governmental collaborative efforts. 
  • Several ongoing PSC and courts with PSC elements operate within adult criminal courts, family courts and youth courts across England and Wales.
  • Although there is a substantial international evidence base, there seems to be limited evidence about the effectiveness of PSC in the UK due to inconsistent implementation and evaluation. 
  • Challenges to PSC implementation can include costs, lack of funding, limited evidence, procedural issues and lack of widespread judicial engagement. 
  • Opportunities for effective PSC implementation include use of existing resources, multi-agency partnerships, advocating for specialist services and a change in culture within the judiciary. 


POST is grateful to Aikaterini Mentzou for researching this briefing, to the Nuffield Foundation for funding her fellowship, and to all contributors and reviewers. For further information on this subject, please contact the co-author, Natasha Mutebi.

Members of the POST Board*

The Ministry of Justice*

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, Former Lord Chief Justice, House of Lords*

Lord Blunkett, House of Lords

Beverly Barnett-Jones MBE, Nuffield Family Justice Observatory

Ash Patel, Nuffield Foundation

Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe, University of Cambridge*

Mary Ryan, Nuffield Family Justice Observatory*

Melissa Meindl, Cardiff University*

David Westlake, Cardiff University*

Helen Fox, Greater Manchester Magistrates’ Court

Joy Doal MBE, Birmingham’s Centre for Women (Anawim)

Dr Jennifer Ward, Middlesex University*

Sarah McManus, Sentencing Academy

Stephen Whitehead, Centre for Justice Innovation*

Gillian Hunter, Birkbeck University of London*

Karen Senogles, Standing Together*

Dr Gemma Birkett, City University of London

Professor Mavis Maclean CBE, University of Oxford

Dr Anna Kawalek, Leeds Beckett University*

DS Sandy Thompson, West Midlands Police

Fiona Deacon, HM Prison & Probation Service*

Dr Sheena Webb*

Dr Mike Shaw, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust*

Sheriff Lindsay Wood, Glasgow Drug Court

Aaron Arnold, National Association of Drug Court Professionals*

* denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

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