About us

CASS+ is an independent charity that works alongside the courts in Devon and Cornwall to support both offenders and victims.

We give advice and support from court settings without judgement, but with respect and fairness to vulnerable people who are at risk or have been processed through the criminal justice system. We are particularly experienced in helping when you’ve not been eligible for legal aid.

Who we are

CASS+ (Community Advice and Support Services+) is a service which gives free advice and support from court settings for people on both sides of the criminal justice service (CJS). Our offices are located at the magistrates’ courts in Bodmin, Truro, Plymouth, and Newton Abbot. This means that people who are in the system – often for the first time – can access our help at the courts.

If you find yourself, for whatever reason, in the criminal justice system, we are here to help. Likewise, if it is a loved one who you need to get advice for, then this is also the place for you.

There are many areas that CASS+ has expertise in as we are made up of a dedicated team of people who either have lived experience or know their way around the legal, benefits and other key systems through years of hands-on experience and training. For free.

Carole Edwards who started out as a volunteer in the Criminal Justice system in 2003, now heads-up the organisation alongside a key co-ordinator for each of the four courts that they work in. They also have an administrator, two assistants and up to 30 volunteers. Carole would be the first to say that many people have misconceptions about the CJS and that she and her team are here to help navigate you through it without prejudice. Court partners, like Magistrates, legal advisors, probation officers and CJ solicitors, all recognise the added value brought by CASS+ when cases are being processed, with many of them referring defendants and families to us before, during or following court activity – that is the standing we have built up in this field.

What we help with:

Benefits

Family matters

Court related support

Health & mental health

Debt & financial worries

Housing & homelessness

Domestic abuse

Substance misuse

Employment & education

Links to other Criminal Justice services

NB. If there is an area that we don’t have a background in, our many years of working with local partners, means that we can signpost you to where you need to go.

Why are we needed?

The lack of legal aid available has dramatically changed the landscape, meaning that more people are having to navigate court processes without support. At least 75% of defendants who come through courts receive low-level fines and conditional discharges. These people are often unrepresented which means that as they aren’t eligible to receive legal aid, so they have to represent themselves. We know that 50% of family cases  don’t meet the threshold for legal aid, and people who have tribunal cases are also unrepresented.

Our history

2005:  CASS (Community Advice & Support Service) originally introduced at Bodmin Magistrates’ Court
2006:  Branch opened in Plymouth
2012:  Truro
2018:  Newton Abbot

We opened as a support service for offenders, following a trend at the time which mirrored a similar one in Brooklyn, USA. Our founder, Mary Anne McFarlane, worked with American and British judges to set this up.

Many similar schemes were set up in courts across the UK, but this is the only one still operating. 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.

2015: We set up as our own independent charity and renamed ourselves CASS+ as we are now more than a community advice and support service and the ‘plus or +’ allows us to continue to grow, whilst maintaining our brand awareness locally.

2016: We began to coordinate 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.

2017: Almost 300 victims have been supported by us between April 2015 and December 2018.