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National Objectives for Social Work Services in the Criminal Justice System: Standards Social Enquiry Reports and associated Court Services


National Objectives for Social Work Services in the Criminal Justice System: Standards - Social Enquiry Reports and associated Court Services


1.1This section sets out National Standards for social enquiry and related reports and court based social work services. They are part of the wider framework of National Standards prepared for criminal justice social work services and there are occasional cross-references to the standards for other services.

1.2Social enquiry reports are intended to assist sentencing. They provide information about offenders and their circumstances of general relevance to the courts. On the basis of a risk and needs assessment, they also advise the courts on the suitability of offenders for those community based disposals which local authorities supervise on behalf of the courts and other community based disposals. Social work staff based at court play an important part in ensuring that this information and advice service is provided efficiently and effectively. They also have a range of other duties set out in detail at paras 8.1 to 8.16.

The Legal Framework of Social Enquiry Reports

1.3The term "social enquiry report" does not exist in law but is used to describe reports which local authority social workers prepare and submit to the courts in carrying out their duties under section 27(1)(a) of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. The Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995:

1.3.1empowers the court to adjourn a case before sentence "for the purpose of enabling enquiries to be made or of determining the most suitable method of dealing with a case". An adjournment must not exceed 3 weeks where the offender is remanded in custody (section 201(3)a). When the offender is remanded on bail or ordained to appear the maximum period is normally 4 weeks although, "on cause shown", the period may be 8 weeks (s 201(3));

1.3.2requires the court to obtain "such information as it can about an offender's circumstances, character, and physical and mental condition" before imposing either a first sentence of imprisonment on any offender aged 21 or over, or any sentence of detention on an offender between the ages of 16 and 20. In each case imprisonment or detention may be imposed only if the court is of the opinion that no other method of dealing with the offender is appropriate (s 204(2));

1.3.3requires the court to obtain a report regarding the circumstances and character of the offender and arrangements for supervision before making a Probation Order (s 228(1b)) and 228 (2a & b);

1.3.4requires a report regarding the offender's suitability before making a Community Service Order (s 238(c));

1.3.5requires the court to obtain a report before making a Supervised Release Order (s 209(2));

1.3.6requires the court to obtain a report before passing an Extended Sentence (s 210A(10));

1.3.7requires the court (except District Courts) to obtain a report before disposal of a case involving a person specified in section 27(1)(b)(i) to (vi) of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, (s 203 (1 and 2) i.e.:

i.persons who are under supervision by order of a court;

ii.persons under supervision following release from prison or any other form of detention;

iii.persons subject to a Community Service Order or a Probation Order including a requirement of unpaid work;

iv.persons subject to Supervised Attendance Orders;

v.persons subject to a Supervision and Treatment Order.

1.3.8requires the court to obtain a report on offenders under the age of 16 appearing in court or on offenders up to the age of 18 who are subject to a Supervision Requirement from the Children's Hearing (s 42(8)).

Priorities for Reports

1.4Where the law does not require the court to ask for a report, the court can exercise its discretion to request one. Local authority managers should discuss priorities locally with judges, particularly where the workload is high. Discussions should start from the premise that the court can always ask for a report and is not obliged to give reasons. The aim of any discussions is to agree some order of priority for discretionary reports, whilst acknowledging that the final decision in each case rests with the court. Where the court is not considering custody, it is always possible for judges to request an oral report.

The Purposes of Reports

1.5Reports provide the court with the information and advice they need in deciding on the most appropriate way to deal with offenders. They include information and advice about the feasibility of community based disposals, particularly those involving local authority supervision. In the case of every offender under 21 and any offender facing custody for the first time, the court must obtain information and advice about whether a community disposal is available and appropriate. In the event of custody, the court requires advice about the possible need for a Supervised Release Order or Extended Sentence Supervision on release.

What Does This Mean for Social Workers?

1.6To provide a report to the court, social workers must investigate the offender's offending behaviour and his or her personal and social circumstances with a view to offering information and advice which will help the court decide between the available sentencing options. Taking account of the range of information available, the central task is to provide advice about the feasibility of a community disposal or the need for supervision on release from custody by assessing the risk of re-offending, and in more serious cases the risk of possible harm to others. This requires an investigation of offending behaviour and of the offender's circumstances, attitudes and motivation to change. Reports have a particular role to play in seeking to ensure that offenders are not sentenced to custody for want of information and advice about feasible community-based disposals.

1.7In providing this service, social workers must make sure that offenders understand what reports for the courts are for and the reasons for asking specific questions about their family and social circumstances and their offending. Offenders have the right to know the content of reports written about them (see para 6.9).

1.8The process of preparing a report may, depending on the circumstances, involve the report writer in a number of the tasks listed below:

  • motivational work to encourage the offender to face up to his or her behaviour and to consider its consequences;
  • negotiations to agree a specific course of action to address problems and issues related to offendings, should the court make a probation order or defer sentence;
  • the explanation of the range of uses to which a report can be put and the boundaries of confidentiality.

Working Principles

1.9Providing information and advice to the courts must be based on the following working principles:

1.9.1the service is for the courts and not offenders. It must be impartial and social workers should distinguish clearly between the tasks of advising the court and of providing any help to the offender while the report is being prepared;

1.9.2local authority criminal justice service managers are accountable to the senior manager with overall responsibility for social work services in their authority for the overall standard of the service; report writers are accountable to their line managers and to the court for the content of individual reports;

1.9.3reports must be prepared by qualified social workers, given the complex nature of the task and the responsibility it involves;

1.9.4the service is managed and delivered according to national standards.