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Court Reports


Why does the court ask for reports?

Sentencing someone for an offence is not an easy process, and the court is expected to take great care to make sure it has enough information to do this fairly. The court report, previously called a Social Enquiry Report or SER, but now called the Criminal Justice Social Work Report (CJSWR), is an important part of this process.

What information will a court report contain?

The sentencer (a Sheriff, Judge or Justice of the Peace) has decided that he or she needs to know more about the offender's past and present circumstances. He or she also wants to know more about the offence, and the likelihood of the person getting into trouble again. This part of the report will give the court a Risk Assessment, which considers the risk of someone committing another offence, and what risk of harm may result from the person's behaviour towards other people.

Finally, the report will also discuss various sentences which could be used in this case, a number of which are managed by the Criminal Justice Social Work Service.

Is the report prepared by the Social Worker the only information that the courts uses to sentence someone?

If the sentencer decides that more information is needed, he or she may ask for additional assessments (for example, psychiatric or psychological reports). These may be ordered at the same time as the original Criminal Justice Social Work Report, or after reading that report.

Apart from the reports, the sentencer will also take into account:

- information that has come to light during legal proceedings, including trials;

- information given to the court by the defence solicitor (which may include independent reports requested by the defence;

- the summary of previous convictions provided by the Scottish Criminal Record Office.

When MUST the sentencer ask for reports?

Acts of Parliament and findings of the High Court both define certain circumstances where a report has to be obtained before particular actions can be taken.

- Somebody aged under 21 years cannot be sentenced to imprisonment without a court report having been prepared.

- Before any adult (over 21) can be sentenced to imprisonment for the first time, the court must obtain a report.

Before the court can use a number of the different sentences considered to be an alternative to custody it must obtain a Criminal Justice Social Work Report , with any additional assessments required by law:

- Assessment of suitability and appropriateness of various conditions of the Community Payback Order (CPO). For all offences committed from 1st February 2011.

- Probation Orders - the report author is expected to consider what the benefits of Probation would be, in terms of reducing offending. Now useable only for offences committed before 1st February 2011.

- Community Service Orders cannot be made unless reports indicate that the person is suitable, and that the local Community Service by Offenders scheme can make arrangements for work to be carried out. Now useable only for offences committed before 1st February 2011.

- A Restriction of Liberty Order (managed by an independent company Serco on behalf of the Scottish Government) requires an assessment of suitability and for the agreement of the householder to be obtained.

Who sees the court report?

Court reports are only available to a restricted number of people, for specific purposes.

It is crucial that the person on whom the report is written actually reads the report, and the solicitor involved in the case will also need to see it. If the person has difficulties in reading, they must get someone to go through the report with them in detail. While Social Workers will try to report accurately on the information they receive, it is possible that past records may have been inaccurate, or that the subject of the report may have given information that they later realise to have been incomplete.

The sentencer will read the report and consider it carefully, and the Sheriff Clerk and Procurator Fiscal may read the report.

The court report is an important means of passing on information to the people who will deal with any sentences imposed, and a copy will be given to other Criminal Justice Social Work staff who are asked to work with a person, to the Scottish Prison Service if the person is imprisoned, or to Serco if a Restriction of Liberty Order is imposed.

Whenever a report is passed to another organisation, it is done with the clear understanding that this is subject to the rules of confidentiality that apply to all the work carried out by organisations in the field of criminal justice.



Updated: 13/08/12