Sentencing and Courts

Assessing offenders is one of Probation’s key skills. Experienced Probation staff use these skills to assist sentencers in passing a sentence which is most appropriate in the circumstances, both as a punishment and to support efforts to prevent re-offending. Probation then supervises offenders to a high standard to ensure that the aims of the sentence are met and its requirements are properly enforced.

In this way probation staff play a key role in the sentencing process, providing information to judges and magistrates through reports, both written and oral, which assess offenders in terms of their personal history and situation, the factors which have led to their offending, their attitude towards the offences they have committed and the victims of those offences. The assessment will reach a conclusion as to what type of sentence would best tackle those factors which might predispose an individual offender to re-offend. Relevant factors might include poor employment skills, in many cases exacerbated by deficits in literacy or numeracy, substance or alcohol misuse, lack of suitable accommodation, poor mental or physical health, or lack of financial stability. Many offenders display attitudes and behaviours that need to be challenged and changed if they are to take responsibility and avoid further offending.

The PCA’s Sentencing & Courts policy portfolio is led by Martin Graham, Chief Executive of Norfolk & Suffolk Probation Trust. The group’s core aims are:

  • To promote active leadership of our role within the courts and to prioritise provision of an excellent service there
  • To strengthen sentencer confidence as pivotal to our credibility in delivering effective community sentences
  • To ensure greater practice-led influence on sentencing policy and development of sentencing guidelines
  • To establish PCA as a source of valued policy advice within MoJ
  • To respond on behalf of PCA to consultative documents
  • To build effective links more widely with the Magistrates Association, Judicial Studies Board, senior judiciary and other key stakeholders
  • To promote best practice in sentencer communication and liaison

For queries and contributions to the PCA’s Sentencing & Courts policy portfolio group, please contact the lead.

Recent news and actions:

In March 2013, the PCA responded to to the Sentencing Council’s consultation on new draft sentencing guidelines for sexual offences. View here.

The Government in November 2012 introduced ammendments to the Crime & Courts Bill which would make it mandatory for courts when issuing a community order to include at least one requirement imposed for the ‘purpose of punishment’ or a fine. Read the PCA’s immediate press statement here.
The reforms to community sentencing follow a Government consultation back in spring 2012, for which the PCA submitted a full response.

The PCA have also been undertaking work on the intensive community sentence pilots, establishing a dedicated policy portfolio group to examine this topic, more about which can be found here.