Allocation of Court Reports

P02/11

Allocation of Court Reports - Guidance for Members and Branches

Drafted by Professional Committee

 

Background

The National Offender Management Service has decreed that 80% of reports in Magistrates’ Courts should be completed on the day as fast-delivery or oral reports.

In order to meet that target, many Trusts are instructing staff to assess high risk cases on the day of sentence within 2.5 hours.  In one Trust, offences of Armed Robbery and GBH (by stamping) were seen as appropriate for a tick box FDR format. Similar incidents are becoming widespread as pressure increases to meet the 80% target.

In one of those cases, a PSO correctly declined to do a piece of high risk work.  While there was no direct threat made of disciplinary action to the PSO, it was indicated to the Napo Rep that a disciplinary could be a consequence of not carrying out the task.  

That particular incident gave rise to an emergency motion at Napo’s AGM 2010.  The motion was passed and Professional Committee was asked to issue this guidance.

Advice to Members

•    Familiarise yourself with Probation Circular 06/2009 and any subsequent Probation Instructions; also any agreed local Trust Practice Direction. These refer to determining PSR type.

•    PSO members writing FDRs should do so only on the basis of their training and pay banding (which is based on job evaluation – see below).  You should not be asked to write a report and make a proposal for any order you would not manage, e.g. high risk, domestic violence, sex offenders.

•    All report writers: if you do not have enough information you should inform the court and request an adjournment to gather the evidence needed for a proposal.

•    If it is a borderline case, gather information from the defendant to assist you in making a decision about the report type.

•    No reports should be completed without sight of a case summary and details of any previous convictions.

•    When in disagreement about the report type, the allocating manager/line manager and report writer should jointly sign the report and a separate record made, in case of any repercussions.

•    Remember to seek advice from your manager and Napo rep.  Manager members should not be put in a position where they are required to instruct staff to work inappropriately. Make sure you refer such instances to your line manager and seek a response on the record.

Advice to Branches

•    Points to consider raising when negotiating at the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC).

•    FDRs and Oral Reports have their place and this can be acknowledged in negotiations - the issue is where to draw the line.  Final decisions should always be on a professional assessment of the risk and complexity, rather than an arbitrary target.

•    In negotiations, JNC members should not be persuaded by any argument that the report is only needed for the sentencing judge.  Our own colleagues, Prisons, partnership agencies, the Parole Board and service users all benefit from a sound pre-sentence report.  The Probation Service is operating in an unwelcome climate of competition, and so the maintenance of high professional standards for our partners/stakeholders is vital for staff and Trusts alike.

•    Pre-sentence, our work is reliant on our being able to make an accurate assessment of risk.  We cannot make a proposal without it.  If we need further information, the Court must be made aware of it and either make a decision to adjourn or sentence without a complete report.  That decision is the responsibility of the Court, not that of the individual practitioner.  Probation senior management has a duty to support practitioners.

•    The concept of less serious domestic violence (amongst other offences) appears in PC06/2009.  Trusts that embrace and expand this description play a dangerous game.  It is always necessary to gather information from the victim statement and external agencies so risk can properly be assessed.  This process will need an adjournment.

•    Inappropriate and inadequately informed sentence proposals can cause problems in post-sentence service delivery for prisons as well as Trusts.  The 80% target can be compromise public protection further down the line.

•    Threats of discipline arising out of disagreements over court report format are unacceptable and unnecessary.  It is unacceptable that a Trust pass the organisational accountability buck so that it is the PO/PSO whose career is on the line because they refuse to cut corners on risk. Trusts should encourage professional debate to ensure appropriate allocation of resources to risk.

•    Job evaluation – Professional issues and members’ terms and conditions do interleave. The impact on remuneration/role boundaries of some of these shifts of emphasis regarding FDR/SDR should be raised with Senior Management, and it is also being raised nationally.   

•    Advise trusts that breach of role boundaries is potentially a matter for dispute.

Aggravating Factors

Sentence proposals rely on sound risk assessments based on varied sources of information.  Reports which, without proper analysis, simply re-hash the defendant’s view are unfortunately becoming more common. The 80% target will exacerbate this as pressure mounts to complete reports on the day without proper information.

NOMS suggests that the sentencing judge does not always need a risk assessment to sentence on the day.  This statement is illogical and undermines our profession because when a report is requested it is because the court requires our assessment.  If we cannot or do not provide it, or it lacks sufficient quality, the court and defendant are without our considered professional input.  This has obvious implications for justice, rehabilitation and public protection and also, sadly but increasingly important, our ability to remain competitive.

Professional Committee will welcome comments and questions related to this guidance. Please direct any enquiries via Shireena Suleman at Napo Head Office – Email ssuleman@napo.org.uk  tel. 0207 223 4887