4 Court-based services and social work reports
4.1 There are various tasks associated with providing information and advice to the court. These include:
- oral/written reports and information at the court’s request on specific matters to inform the sentencing process or the decision to remand to custody rather than grant bail
- interviews with individuals and completing a medical mandate where significant medical issues have been highlighted
- diverting people with mental health difficulties who may be a risk to themselves from a custodial remand, to either hospital or appropriate bail accommodation, where available, for assessment
- interviewing individuals immediately after the court has passed a custodial sentence/remand or a community disposal involving criminal justice social work, in order to further explain the decision of the court and what this means for individuals. Also, establish if any pressing issues should be dealt with immediately, and inform individuals about the availability of relevant social work services
- forwarding relevant information to prisons in the event of a custodial sentence, including details on people who may pose a risk of harm to themselves and/or others
- representing the local authority criminal justice social work service in the court setting, including, where appropriate, court users' groups and liaising with other professional groups.
4.2 During 2019-20, the courts made 5,700 requests for bail information, a historically low level and 6 per cent lower than the level of 6,000 in 2018-19 (Table 1). In some cases, bail information requests may result in the use of supervised bail rather than remand, and a total of 470 bail supervision cases were commenced in 2019-20. This represented a 40 per cent increase on 2018-19 and was the highest level in any of the last seven years. More detailed information on bail supervision services can be found in the National guidance on bail supervision.
4.3 Same day reports are either pre-sentence reports or specific sentence reports requested by the court. There were 3,600 such reports provided to the courts in 2019-20, down 23 per cent on 2018-19 and the lowest level in the last five years (Table 6). In 2019-20, there were 15,300 post sentence interviews with people remanded into custody or receiving custodial sentences for the first time. This fell in each of the last four years and was 24 per cent lower than in 2015-16.
Criminal justice social work reports
4.4 The criminal justice social work report (CJSWR) in its current format was introduced across Scotland from February 2011 to ensure a consistent provision of information, including the social worker’s professional assessment. This report is intended to assist in the sentencing process and to complement the range of other considerations, such as victim information and narratives from the Procurator Fiscal. In particular, the CJSWR provides information on social work interventions and how these may prevent or reduce further offending. A CJSWR must be requested:
- before imposing a custodial sentence for the first time or where a person is under 21
- when imposing a community payback order with a supervision requirement or level 2 unpaid work or other activity requirement (over 100 hours)
- when imposing a drug treatment and testing order.
4.5 The number of CJSWRs submitted (including supplementary reports but excluding letters sent in lieu of reports) rose by four per cent between 2018-19 and 2019-20 to 28,400 (Table 1). There has, however, been a general drop over the last seven years, with the total in 2019-20 the second lowest over that period and 10 per cent lower than in 2013-14. This drop is broadly in line with an overall fall in court volumes over recent years.
4.6 The number of full CJSWRs (i.e. excluding supplementary reports) also rose in 2019-20, by five per cent to 25,700 (Table 7). Since 2013-14, numbers have fallen by seven per cent (Table 1). The number of supplementary reports submitted continued to be low, at 2,700 in 2019-20.
4.7 Chart 2 illustrates the patterns of change in full reports since 2013-14. Between 2013-14 and 2016-17, the overall fall in the total number of reports per 10,000 population was driven by the drop for those aged 30 and under. Over that period, numbers rose slightly for the over 30s. A similar pattern was observed between 2016-17 and 2019-20, with the largest fall, of around a third, among the under 18s, reflecting the marked fall in court volumes for this age group. There has also been a sharper fall across both periods for women than for men.
Note : Population aged 16 to 70.
4.8 In 2019-20, there were around 74 CJSWRs (including supplementaries) submitted per 10,000 population (Table 3). This was highest for those living in Dundee City (133), Clackmannanshire (112), Dumfries & Galloway (111) and East Ayrshire (109) and lowest for those living in East Lothian (30), East Renfrewshire (37) and East Dunbartonshire (37). The proportion for City of Edinburgh (40) was lower than for any of the other city council areas and just over half the rate for Scotland.
4.9 Between 2018-19 and 2019-20, the total number of reports submitted varied a little across local authorities, with around two-thirds showing an increase in reports submitted and one-third showing a decrease. Further information is provided in the additional datasets which accompany this publication.
Preferred sentencing options
4.10 The criminal justice social work report writer is expected to provide a professional assessment as to the suitability of available sentencing options in terms of maximising the opportunity for the individual to change their behaviour and desist from offending. This analysis is based on the individual’s attitude to offending and motivation to change, as well as risks and identified needs. While the decision on sentencing is for the court to take, the expectation is that the professional analysis will cover substantive issues such as the need for specialist assessment where significant substance use or mental health difficulties are indicated. There is also the expectation that the report will include an assessment of the suitability or otherwise of the community payback order, including the individual’s motivation to successfully complete the order.
4.11 Forty-six per cent of CJSWRs in 2019-20 recommended the use of a community payback order (Table 8). Nineteen per cent recommended a CPO with supervision but not unpaid work, while 13 per cent recommended unpaid work but no supervision.
4.12 In addition, 11 per cent of reports recommended a deferred sentence of three months or more and five per cent suggested a monetary penalty. Custody was the preferred option in six per cent of reports, while 20 per cent suggested some other form of sentence (including a restriction of liberty order or deferment for a drug treatment and testing order assessment). Eleven per cent of CJSWRs gave no preferred sentencing option.
4.13 The main outcome for 40 per cent of CJSWRs in 2019-20 was a community payback order (Table 9). Ten per cent of reports resulted in a CPO with unpaid work but no supervision, with 13 per cent resulting in an order with supervision but no unpaid work. In 17 per cent of cases, a CPO was given with both supervision and unpaid work.
4.14 Custody was the main outcome for 15 per cent of reports in 2019-20. The largest other main outcome categories in 2019-20 were deferred sentence and monetary penalty (9 and 5 per cent of the total respectively).
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