If you have pleaded guilty to an indecent images offence or sexual offence, the Judge, Magistrate or your lawyer will almost certainly request a Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) be prepared.
This is essentially a report prepared by a Probation Officer that gives the sentencing Judge (or magistrates) detailed information in relation to your background, personal circumstances, and likely reasons behind your offending. The Probation Officer preparing the report will carry out a risk assessment and make recommendations as to the most suitable sentence.
If a Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) is ordered in your case, you will have an interview with a Probation Officer who then writes the report on you. This interview will either be in person, face to face, or over the telephone. The appointment generally takes an hour or two.
The Probation service are completely impartial. They have no association with the police and are not there to try and catch you out. They will ask about your offence, but they will also want to know more about your childhood, employment history, relationships and use of substances, mental health issues etc. It’s entirely up to you how much you discuss with them, but generally the more information you can provide them with, the better. In turn they can furnish the Court with options for sentence. Essentially, it’s in your interest to give the Court as many alternatives to custody as possible.
It is very important to cooperate as much as you can with the preparation of the report as otherwise this can have a negative impact on the sentence you are given.
Is the PSR binding on the court?
Whilst a pre-sentence report is not binding on the Magistrates or Judge dealing with your case, a positive report is always looked on favourably. As such full corporation with the probation service in the preparation of the report will greatly increase your chances of obtaining a favourable outcome.
Who Sees the Report?
Your solicitor, your barrister (if you have one), the prosecution, the Judge or Magistrates and the court clerk will receive a copy of the report. You will be given an opportunity to read through your report before the sentencing hearing. If there is anything within the report that you disagree with you must let your lawyer know before you get into court so that the issue can be raised if appropriate
The report will not be read out in court, but the prosecution, defence or Judge can make reference to it or ask questions about it.
The following suggestions will help you get the best out of your interview:
Keep your appointment!
The demand for PSR’s is very high. If you genuinely cannot make your appointment, then let Probation know well in advance. They will attempt to reschedule before your next Court date; however, slots are limited, and this may not be possible. If you fail to attend an appointment without prior notice, Probation will submit a ‘nil report’ to the Court. This is a far less favourable report, based largely on statistics (e.g. previous convictions). In addition, a failure to attend will cause the Court concern that you might also breach a community sentence, for nonattendance. If the Court feel a report is imperative for sentence, they will adjourn for a further 3 weeks and you will get another interview date. There is a risk that you could be remanded into custody in those circumstances so make sure you attend the original appointment unless it is impossible to do so.
Be polite and engaging
Probation will not just be assessing what you say, but also how you say it. If you can communicate well, are insightful about your offence and can assist the PSR process, the officer may be more likely to believe you would engage with a Probation officer. In this circumstance Probation might be more likely to recommend a community sentence, potentially over a custodial one.
If you are sorry about the offence, say it.
You will be asked how you feel about the offence now. It is in your interest to express regret and remorse, if that is how you feel. This is your opportunity to convince the Court that you understand the impact your offence had on any victims, and that your likelihood of committing further offences is low.
If you have not done so already and if there is time before the interview to make some positive steps to address your offending behaviour, such as to sign up for some specialist therapy, do it. Securing work, even if it is voluntary, shows you want to change and are actively moving away from offending behaviour. The Court are less likely to impose a custodial sentence if it means losing any ’protective factors’ that you have put in place.
If you have any medical evidence of mental health issues, medication, psychiatric reports, reports from your therapist etc this can be extremely useful, particularly if your mental health has been a mitigating factor in your offence.
You will be assessed for an appropriate punishment, given your circumstances, the nature of your offence, risk of reoffending and the likelihood you would comply with the punishment (e.g., unpaid work). However, Probation will also try and identify any areas that you can be supported with that would decrease your likelihood of committing further offences. This support would likely be on addition to your punishment and covers many areas, including drug/alcohol intervention, assistance with education and relationships etc.
Take down the details of who you speak to
We will need to obtain a copy of the PSR before your sentencing hearing. Sometimes this can be difficult unless we have the name and contact details of the probation officer you speak to. Politely ask this for this at the conclusion of the interview so we can get the report and go through it with you in order to discuss the recommendations and conclusions.
Please contact the lawyer dealing with your case if you have any questions in relation to an upcoming PSR appointment.