The Community Advice and Support Service (CASS) in Plymouth Magistrates’ Court is a great example of how a support service in a court setting can help vulnerable individuals and enable criminal justice agencies to meet their objectives.

By helping magistrates understand the backgrounds of the defendants who come before them, and tackling the long-term causes of offending, CASS also helps the court focus on people as well as on the facts of cases.

The service works with a range of court users: defendants, victims, witnesses, and families. It balances direct support with practical problems and helping clients access long-term support for chronic issues, such as mental illness and addiction. Its pragmatic and flexible approach enables it to provide a client-centred service with no thresholds or other barriers to entry.

CASS’s well supported team of voluntary advisers provides a comprehensive service to around 500 clients a year at a relatively low cost. CASS’s promising model – and in particular its use of volunteers alongside professional staff – may be valuable in informing the development of other in-court support projects, including liaison and diversion services.