The recent creation of the UK Chapter of the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (ISTJ) is an exciting step forward in raising the profile of TJ in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, there are both opportunities and challenges ahead.
Neap and spring tides each occur twice in a month and represents the points at which the tide is at its lowest (neap) or highest (spring). In other words, they are the extremities of the sea hitting the shore, the times the waves are at their least and fullest. This imagery seems particularly apt when considering the present position of therapeutic jurisprudence in the UK, where both challenges and opportunities, lows and highs, abound.
In terms of high points, the creation of the UK’s ISTJ Chapter comes at a moment where there is increasing interest in, and discussion of, wellbeing issues within legal education and the legal profession. Drawing on the excellent work done in the US, Australia and elsewhere, UK academics and practitioners are increasingly discussing mental health and wellbeing, often using an implicitly TJ lens. There have also been pilots of problem-solving style courts, with the UK’s Centre for Justice Innovation reporting last year that “problem-solving has become a recognised part of the Scottish justice system”.
However, for each high point there is also a low point. The uncertainties of “Brexit” (the UK’s departure from the European Union) and fierce debates over changes to qualification routes into the legal profession in England and Wales all have the potential to draw attention away from the above developments. There are also question marks over the UK government’s commitment to problem-solving courts. Even those in the UK who demonstrate the hallmarks of therapeutic jurisprudence within their practice, research or other work, may not yet be conversant with the wider global movement.
At present, one of the key challenges in the UK is to encourage people within the UK whose practices and values already implicitly fit within a therapeutic jurisprudence framework to recognise and explicitly acknowledge this. A second is to raise awareness of its value amongst those in the legal world whose have not yet recognised the importance of identifying potentially anti-therapeutic consequences. To do this, it will be necessary to raise the profile of therapeutic jurisprudence at various levels – from individual practitioners to regional and national policy creation.
Of course, this could just as easily be characterised as an opportunity, a change for the new ISTJ Chapter to follow in the inspirational footsteps of others seeking to mainstream therapeutic jurisprudence worldwide. Navigating the ebbs and flows may not always be easy, but it will be worthwhile.