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BAIL INFORMATION SCHEMES Probation

PURPOSE
To notify probation areas of the forthcoming Costs/Benefits Review of the
effectiveness of bail information schemes; and of the need to introduce an
Circular
interim bail information targeting scheme now. REFERENCE NO:
19/2005
ACTION
Chief Officers are asked to: ISSUE DATE:
• reassess current local prioritisation agreements and identify 21 March 2005
temporary targeting criteria in advance of the Costs/Benefits Review.
• bring the contents of this Circular to the attention of relevant staff. IMPLEMENTATION DATE:
Immediate
SUMMARY
The recent National Audit Office (NAO) report, Facing Justice: Tackling
Defendants’ Non-attendance at Court, highlighted the significant reduction EXPIRY DATE:
over the last few years in the number of bail information reports prepared for March 2006
courts by the probation service. This decline can be attributed to two factors:
the continuing withdrawal of probation resources from non-statutory work to TO:
the NPS’s statutory obligations; and the 2002 Probation Priority Framework Chairs of Probation Boards
Guidance, which identified bail information work as a “medium priority”,
restricting high priority status to statutory activities. Chief Officers of Probation
Secretaries of Probation Boards
While the NAO’s report stops short of recommending that current policy or
practice should be changed, it does invite a review to identify the potential CC:
costs/benefits of changes to bail information practice. This Costs/Benefits
Board Treasurers
Review will be carried out over the coming months, and its findings will help
develop policy in this area. In particular, the review should help to identify Regional Managers
whether a smarter deployment of existing resources, through targeting Regional What Works Managers
strategies, could deliver benefits across the criminal justice system. Areas
should prepare for the review by looking closely at their current prioritisation AUTHORISED BY:
arrangements, and by identifying temporary targeting criteria based upon
local needs. Liz Hill, Head Of Public Protection
and Courts Unit
RELEVANT PREVIOUS PROBATION CIRCULARS
PC29/2000: Bail Information ATTACHED:
N/A
CONTACTS FOR ENQUIRIES
Oliver Dean, 020 7217 0762, oliver.dean@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk
Iain Cuthbert, 020 7217 0748, iain.cuthbert@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

National Probation Directorate


Horseferry House, Dean Ryle Street, London, SW1P 2AW General Enquiries: 020 7217 0659 Fax: 020 7217 0660

Enforcement, rehabilitation and public protection


Background - Bail Information work

1. Probation bail information work is intended to provide factual, verified information to assist the CPS in deciding if
there are grounds for asking the court to release a defendant on bail rather than remand them in custody. Bail
information should allow the CPS to arrive at the correct decision, balancing out the requirement for public
protection with the need to ensure that those who can be safely managed in the community are not unnecessarily
remanded in custody. It is essential, in order to make the best use of limited remand facilities, for courts to have
accurate and timely information, so that those who can be released on bail are not detained, and that bad bail
risks are remanded in custody for the protection of the public.

The NAO report

2. The NAO’s report, Facing Justice: Tackling Defendants’ Non-attendance at Court, examined the impact of bail
information reports on failure to attend rates, and identified that in recent years, there has been a substantive
reduction in the number of bail information reports prepared for the courts by the probation service. Probation
statistics concur with the NAO: current figures show that the numbers of reports have fallen from a peak of 24,779
reports in 1997, to 5,677 in 2003.

3. The NAO does not recommend that current policy or practice should be changed. However, their report invites
the NPD to review and identify the potential costs/benefits of bail information:

“The National Offender Management Service should evaluate the costs and benefits to be derived from
bail information schemes, including the impact on failure to attend court rates amongst those released on
bail following a bail information report. The results should be used to inform decisions about the
development of these schemes.”1

The purpose of this Circular is to prepare probation areas for this review by re-assessing their current bail
information strategies, and by implementing clear and consistent temporary targeting criteria based upon local
needs.

Bail Information work – current issues

4. The steady decline noted above in the numbers of bail information reports accelerated significantly in 2003,
largely due to two factors: the continuing withdrawal of probation resources from non-statutory to statutory
obligations, and the impact of 2002’s Probation Priority Framework Guidance (PPFG).

5. The PPFG stemmed from an internal review of probation service priorities undertaken within the NPD during
2002, primarily to address specific workload pressures across the service, aligned with the NPD’s aims of
rehabilitation, reducing re-offending and protecting the public. As a result of this review, the provision of bail
information, though recognised for its wider benefits to the criminal justice system, was assigned “medium”
priority.

6. While there is no statutory duty for the NPS to provide bail information, Probation Circular 29/2000 offers
guidance to areas on the production of bail information reports, quality assured by compliance with NPS National
Standards (B1-B4). In PC 29/2000, Chief Officers are advised that they should:

• provide comprehensive court-based information;


• establish new arrangements or develop existing schemes;
• draw up a clear interviewing targeting policy.

7. NPD has conducted some research into the numbers of magistrates’ courts which are covered by bail information
schemes. Last year this figure stood at 55%, although there has been no evaluation of how effective or
comprehensive these schemes are.

8. There is a significant variance in the numbers of bail information reports by each area. A breakdown by area of
2003’s total of 5,677 reports shows that while one area produced nearly 2000 reports, several areas did not
submit any bail information reports.

9. Since learning of the NAO’s recommendations, the NPD has undertaken a survey of the local provision of bail

1
Recommendation 6 NAO Report “Facing Justice: Tackling defendants’ non-attendance at court”

PC19/2005 – Bail Information Schemes 2


information reports. It is clear from this that most areas that have schemes target defendants who are most at
risk of custody. The types of defendants targeted vary from area to area, but include women, 18-21 year olds,
BMEs and Prolific and other Priority Offenders.

10. Areas will be aware that the Approved Premises and Offender Housing Strategy, published with Ministerial
approval in autumn 2004, confirms that approved premises provide an enhanced level of supervision that is most
appropriately targeted at offenders who pose a high or very high risk of harm to the public. This applies to bail
placements as much as to offenders on orders or licences. The expectation, therefore, is that referral for a bail
placement will normally be accepted only on public protection grounds and/or for bail assessment purposes.
Further guidance on implementation of the Approved Premises and Offender Housing Strategy will be issued in
due course. It should be noted that, in their report Facing Justice: Tackling Defendants’ Non-attendance at Court,
the NAO also made the following recommendation:

“NOMS should examine the options available to the courts for defendants awaiting trial who pose a low
threat to the public but who have a high risk of FTA. This work should establish patterns of unmet
demand for places for defendants, for example in probation hostels.”

11.This recommendation falls within the scope of a project established to consider what alternative housing provision
might be needed for bailees and other non-high risk groups who increasingly can no longer be accommodated in
approved premises. This work is currently being taken forward

The Costs/Benefits review

12. The most recent comprehensive review of bail information was carried out in the late 1990s, as part of a
Comprehensive Spending Review. The Costs/Benefits Review recommended by the NAO will therefore provide
the service with a timely insight into the effectiveness of the bail information process at present.

13. Although the NAO Report focuses on defendants’ failures to attend court hearings, the review will look at bail
information and its impact from a number of different perspectives. The review will look at:

• the relationship between bail information and failure to attend rates;


• the effects of bail information, and targeted strategies on bail decisions.

14. Clearly, bail information also has a role in protecting the public. We are clear on the importance of bail information
in this area and do not need to assess this through the review.

What needs to be done now?

15. Chief Officers are asked to bring the proposed Costs/Benefits Review to the attention of relevant staff, and
reassess current bail information procedures building on the guidance published in PC 29/2000 and in line with
the Probation Service National Standards.

16. In advance of the results of the Costs/ Benefits Review, which will give us a better evidence base, Chief Officers
are asked to identify temporary targeting criteria based upon local needs. It is clear that due to resource
constraints, most probation areas will not be able to give blanket coverage of bail information reports to all cases.
In these circumstances, consideration should be given to targeting:

• Vulnerable defendants, such as those with mental health problems and young (18-21 year old)
defendants
• Defendants likely to cause harm or re-offend
• Those who have a disproportionately high risk of being remanded in custody such as female, BME and
young (18-21 year old) defendants
• Prolific and other Priority Offenders
• Those likely to fail to attend court (this could be based on their past record of attendance, if known).

It is stressed that this is interim guidance issued in advance of the findings of the planned Costs/ Benefits Review.
The suggested groups of defendants are suggestions and Chief Officers will want to consider local circumstances
and needs before deciding on which groups to target in this interim period.

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