Mental Health, Autism & Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Courts

Information for magistrates, district judges and court staff

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i. Pre-sentence reports

The purpose of a pre-sentence report (PSR), as defined by s158 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, is to assist the court ' determining the most suitable method of dealing with an offender'.

In January 2016 a new Probabtion Instruction was issued, Determining Pre Sentence Reports-Sentencing within the new framework (PI 04/2016; NOMS, 2016), which sets out a framework for determining the most appropriate format for providing information to courts, and builds on best practice achieved between the probation service and courts. The National Probation Service (NPS) is responsible for the delivery of PSRs, and most reports are delivered on the day of sentence or within five working days. Initiatives such as Transforming Summary Justice and Better Case Management have introduced the ability to present reports orally to the court, and sentencing at first appearence, so reducing the need for adjournments and delays to sentence. Whether delivered orally or in writing, reports should be delivered to a national template or common format and, according to the Probation Instruction '...the assessment and analysis undertaken [should be] sufficient and of good quality to provide appropriate sentencing proposals'.

 The PSR should include, but is not limited to: 

  • an analysis of the offence and pattern of offending, beyond a restating of the facts of the case
  • relevant offender circumstances with links to offending behaviour highlighted; relevant circumstances may, for example, be related to an offenders mental health or disability
  • the outcome of pre-sentence checks with other agencies
  • sentence proposals that address the offenders assessed risk and needs, and
  • for offenders aged 18-24, a consideration of their maturity must be included.

In addition, the PSR should address 'any indications provided by the court', which-in the context of this resource-might relate to an offenders mental health or disability, or any suspicion that an offender might have a mental health problems or a disability that need further investigation. For example, the report writer could discuss your concerns with the offender, liaise with local healthcare professionals and, where services exist, arrange for the offender to be seen by your local liaison and diversion service. The liaison and diversion service could be asked to prepare a report to inform, or be included with, the PSR.

If, having received an oral or written report on the day of sentence, you think a more detailed report is needed, or you want to give a preliminary indication of purpose of sentence, you can adjourn so that a more detailed report is prepared. According to the Probation Instruction '...where the court provides an indication of a specific sentence...the report must include an assessment of the specific requirement as requested by the court.' In the context of this resource, a specific sentence might be Community Payback or Alcohol Treatment Requirement adapted to the particular needs of an offfender with autism, learning disabilities or mental health problems, or a Mental Health Treatment Requirement.

Where a custodial sentence is being considered, a PSR should, ideally, include how custody may affect the offender, especially if they are vulnerable. For example, the use of custody for people with mental health conditions can heighten vulnerability and increase the risk of self harm and suicide (Deparment of Health, 2009), while very few prisons are able to adequately accommodate people with learning disabilities (Talbot, 2008). 

It is important that you have confidence in the PSR you receive. A good PSR can provide you with background information about the offender, the offence and risk factors, which will enable you to make a decision on an appropriate sentence. If you think that the PSR does not give you sufficient information, or that relevant information has not been included or is inaccurate, you should ask to speak to the NPS Court Officer to request that your concerns are put right. For example, if the report has failed to answer a specific question or request to your satisfaction, the NPS Court Officer may be able to deal with the situation by interviewing the offender and providing a verbal update to the court, avoiding the need for an adjournment. If, in your view, the report is not fit for purpose, you can request an adjournment for the report to be reviewed or rewritten. 







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