I thought of this experience when I read that Lord Leveson has recommended that the adult courts should ask for fewer pre sentence reports. He writes that “although greater use can and should be made of the discretion to dispense with reports, and an increased use of oral (“stand down”) or previous reports, consideration should be given to providing Judges with greater flexibility not to order reports. It is at least arguable that the presumption that a report will be obtained should be removed.”
This seems particularly foolhardy at the current time. If the rehabilitation revolution is anything more than a slogan , it will require mechanisms through which the courts and other decision-making bodies have access to expert advice about what is needed to help offenders desist from crime. The process of social inquiry , historically the core of report writing, will be more important than ever.
PSR's will also be particularly important after the introduction of supervision after release from short prison terms which is likely to have an impact on the custodial threshold which courts consider before sentencing someone to prison . The additional punitive weight of such sentences should require a higher level of seriousness than at present before they are imposed. Yet many commentators feel that the clang of the prison gate (for as little as two days) followed by up to a year’s supervision will prove attractive to sentencers in a wider range of cases. In this context, pre- sentence reports will assume a greater significance in assisting courts to determine whether individual offenders lose their liberty or can instead undertake a suitable programme of supervision, treatment or reparation in the community.
Allowing courts to dispense with PSR’s may appear to make the system more efficient but it may well be at the expense of effectiveness in terms of rehabilitation and economy because yet more offenders will go to prison. Management consultants might not recognise that but a senior Judge should know better.