CASS+ was formed originally as an independent service at Bodmin Magistrates’ Court in 2005, followed by a branch in Plymouth in 2006, and Truro as 2012. Intended as a support service for offenders, following the trend at the time, which was Community Justice. Many similar schemes were set up in courts across the UK, but this is the only one still operating after 12 years. We have been a model of good practice within the courts system for many years, and have been achieving excellent results for the people who come through our doors.
Many people are signposted to us by others within the court system, and we know that magistrates take into account the fact that defendants are being helped by us when they make their sentencing disposals – that’s the standing we have built up in this field.
The lack of Legal Aid available now has dramatically changed the landscape, meaning that more people are navigating court processes without support. 75% of defendants who come through courts receive low-level disposals (fines and conditional discharges). These people are usually un-represented ( i.e. not receiving Legal Aid for legal help, and therefore representing themselves). 50% of family cases don’t meet the threshold for Legal Aid, and tribunal cases are also unrepresented.
In 2016 we began to co-ordinate the Victim Care work in Cornwall on behalf of the Safer Stronger Consortium signposting victims of crime to appropriate providers of services to support them and help them get back on their feet. This facet of our work has just been renewed from April 2017, and nearly 200 people have been supported in this way since April 2015.
Originally conceived by Mary Anne McFarlane and supported strongly by the Probation Service, Magistrates’ Courts Committee (now Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service – HMCTS) and Devon & Cornwall Police Service, CASS continues to work in partnership with these organisations and others. CASS depends on building strong relationships with organisations that provide support services in order to be able to refer clients for assistance.
CASS was sponsored in the first instance by the Prison Advice and Care Trust, our more recent sponsor was Rethink Mental Illness. We are grateful to both of these organisations for their past support. From April 2015, CASS was relaunched as a completely new, independent Charity – CASS+. We continue to operate much as before but with exciting potential to extend our work to other sites and to innovate.
Currently we are working with the University of Plymouth and the Centre for Justice Innovation to measure and further develop the effectiveness of our services. We are starting to spread the model, exporting the way we work to other courts.