Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.





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Wednesday, 28 January 2015

DO PROBATION OFFICERS UNDERSTAND THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS IN SENTENCING TO CUSTODY SUSPENDED?



A recent sitting was in the breach court. I find the prosecution at my court to be of a good  standard notwithstanding errors and omissions owing to the mal functioning in the back office and the apparent inability of reduced staff numbers to cope with their workload.  All evidence seems to be available with the only chink in the armour a reliance on computer print outs of the chronology of the case; print outs which sometimes raise more questions than answers. It has been admitted in open court more than once that the reliance on probation workers recording accurately every interaction with the clients has to be weighed against the number of clients passing through the system and the numbers in the office dealing with them. I have ceased to be over critical in my comments.

There is one trend in pre sentence reports that I do find difficult to tolerate and an example presented at that recent sitting. We were being asked to revoke and re-sentence. The offender had been convicted of a relatively low level offence and had been sentenced to a medium term of unpaid work in the community. We had therefore in front of us the PSR based upon which the defendant had been sentenced previously and which he had breached twice initiating the request from the prosecutor who read out an addendum from the officer concerned. Apparently he recommended that he now be “sentenced to a Suspended Sentence Order with additional work hours requirement imposed. My words to the prosecutor were, “ Are you telling us that the report writer now considers that the defendant`s substantive offence is now so serious that only custody is appropriate?” To make the point I continued, “To suspend custody one must firstly cross the threshold that only custody is appropriate before considering whether there are considerations which warrant suspension.” We did not follow the proposal and the prosecutor assured us he would report our comments to the officer concerned.

I am inclined to think that such muddled thinking in probation offices is not confined to my court.

6 comments:

  1. As a probation prosecutor my understanding would be that twice breaching a community order , if found to be "willful and persistent " would have taken the matter into the realm where custody could be a real consideration notwithstanding the original assessment was pitched at the level of seriousness suggesting a community order was an appropriate disposal ?

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  2. Mine too - but can it be *suspended* in those circumstances?

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  3. Yes, with the greatest of respect you are wrong, JP. The Sentencing Guidelines make it abundantly clear that courts have 6 months custody at their disposal for deliberate and repeated breach of a CO. Same applies to those whose offence is assessed as passing the community threshold but refuse to cooperate with Probation.

    Finally, if you don't think much of the record keeping of Probation at present, wait till it's in the hands of the CRCs run by multi-national cleaning companies and the like!

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  4. I endorse what Anon of 29 January says - I frequently sit in the breach court, and the index offence rarely comes into it, as we are considering persistent and wilful breaches of court orders. That's what attracts custody, not the assault, shoplifting or drink-driving which earned a community order in the first place. If we decide the breach has crossed the custody threshold (usually the second or third breach if we've got to this point) then we will suspend it if there is hope that the offender might complete the order

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  5. But if requirements are to be included to the period during which the sentence has been suspended (sadly often neglected by sentencers), what chance of those being carried out in cases such as those cited?

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    1. That's the decision the Bench or Judge has to make. A suspended sentence implies some expectation of cooperation with Probation, and to my mind makes no sense at all in this context with attaching requirements. If the view is that cooperation will not take place - sometimes expressed as such by the offender him/herself - then immediate custody is the appropriate sentence in my view.

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