Communication and Consultation

Magistrates are generally very positive about being informed, but more negative about how well they are consulted or listened to about the services provided. There are certain areas that magistrates want to know more about, notably, individual offender's progress, work with victims and prisoners on licence. Magistrates tell us that the most helpful sources of information are court clerks and knowledgeable probation officers and their preferred method of communication is through articles in The Magistrate magazine.

Q How helpful do you find each of the following sources of information relating to Probation for your sentencing work?
Information from court clerks Knowledgeable probation officers Adequate information on the background of offenders and how they can be dealt with effectively Information from colleagues on the bench Information from the Magistrates’ Association Training about Probation % Unhelpful % Helpful 7 10 11 8 6 5 90 89 88 85 84 82
Base: All respondents (5,716)

Magistrates would like the public to be better informed and more positive about the work of the Probation Service.

Q Finally, what in your view would be the three key actions that would help to make the Probation Service more effective in protecting the public and reducing crime?





More staff/probation officers/ improve recruitment More financial resources Improve public relations/educate the public on role of Probation Improve community programmes/ more resources for community programmes Feedback on successes/effectiveness of programmes/outcome of orders
Base: All respondents (5,716)










Q1 What is your overall impression of how magistrates view the Probation Service? Is it what you expected?
I am very pleased to see that overall the view of the magistracy seems to be positive towards Probation. Now I don't for a moment believe that this means there aren't problems. I did think, as the responses came in so rapidly, that maybe I should ready myself for a tide of dissatisfaction but I feel the perceptions reflect what we all know; that over the past two years the Service has changed a lot and sentencers' confidence in what we do has risen, while at the same time there are some problems in some Areas. What I want to stress is that we commissioned this research to find out where there are problems and gaps in knowledge and I repeat, we will be using the findings from this research to look at ways of working together better.

Q4 Do you want sentencers to increase their use of community penalties?
I want community penalties to be used for the right offenders. We have the evidence to show that for the right offenders community sentences are the most effective means to reduce re offending. We are in the business of developing orders that meet your needs especially for high risk or persistent offenders. One example is the Intensive Control and Change Programme, a pilot programme for young offenders. Another is Enhanced Community Punishment which retains the strong punitive element of Community Punishment while giving offenders skills to help them leave their offending lives behind. I am pleased to hear from colleagues from the Department for Constitutional Affairs that there is work going on to improve enforcement of the fine.

Q2 What are the highlights and disappointments from this research?
The two things I found most rewarding are firstly the importance of the personal relationships between magistrates and probation court staff. Secondly, there is recognition that enforcement is working. Everyone in the Service has worked extremely hard to improve enforcement and the breach process. I am therefore very happy to see that this is something that you see as having improved and actually something in which you have a lot of confidence.The most recent performance report shows that the enforcement across all orders has improved again. What is disappointing is that there is the perception that there is a lack of understanding about the work we do with victims. Since 2001 the NPS has actually had a statutory duty to offer contact to victims. This is arguably the most exciting new part of Probation's work and I want others to know about it. We need to work harder to ensure that positive messages are getting through to sentencers.

Q5 If the numbers of offenders under the supervision of the Probation Service increase do you have the resources to cope?
Staff numbers have increased steadily over the past two years, and we are currently aiming to recruit and train a further 1100 probation officers. It is my responsibility to do everything I can to ensure that the Service is appropriately resourced. If proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill are accepted be assured that we are doing all we can now to prepare for the likely changes We are looking at partnerships with the voluntary sector and other criminal justice agencies so that we have the resources to deliver the service.

Q6 Based on the results of this survey what is your priority?
We have already started reviewing our court work in light of these results. I am encouraged that there is confidence in our enforcement and I want now to get the messages across about other areas of success, such as, the work we do with victims and the evidence that shows our sentences work. Likewise while I am pleased that in general magistrates are positive about the reports they receive I recognise that this is not the case everywhere. I am committed to improving this situation. Finally I want to thank the 6000 of you who responded to this joint approach and I want to continue to encourage this shared understanding and shared effort in our joint work to reduce re offending.

Q3 What are you doing about problems in certain areas around producing PSRs that sentencers request?
It was encouraging to see that on the whole magistrates are happy with the quality and timeliness of the reports they receive. The fact that many of you have called for more SSRs to be available and for PSRs to be less lengthy suggests that an interim report that can use OASys would be useful. Probation has finite resources. If we can make the reporting system more effective then we can use resources to support sentencers in other ways and to deliver the orders and programmes that change offenders' behaviour. We are now able directly to provide additional support and focus attention on raising performance in Areas where a problem has been identified.

Eithne Wallis, Director General of the National Probation Service for England and Wales 5


The Findings
Personal thanks from Eithne Wallis
"The Service has changed a lot since I started as a probation officer. These changes have been hard but necessary and I am delighted with the National Service that we have created and that is truly an international leader in its field. As we all know there is still more to be done and I believe that the relationship between the Probation Service and the courts is essential for continued, mutual success. By working together as equal partners and through better understanding of each other's roles we can reach the common goal of reducing re offending. This piece of research is part of my commitment to building our relationship and making it more effective for both parties. Thank you to all of you who completed this research. Nearly 6000 of you responded which is a huge number. This is the largest survey of magistrates' views of Probation ever conducted. We did this research in order to inform what the NPS does next and also to act as a benchmark. We want to do a similar survey in the future to see if perceptions have changed. We will use these results to review and change our business in any areas necessary. I am committed to building the partnership between Probation and the Courts and as you have told us you prefer, we will continue to build relations at a local level as we have done in the past.”

Space dictates that this is only a summary of the results of the survey. The full results of this research are available on the NPS website (

Sentencing and Supervision
Unsurprisingly magistrates see compliance as well managed for the best known orders and less so for less used disposals. This highlights the gap in knowledge that the Probation Service must fill about prisoners on licence and curfew orders for example. The most frequent suggestion for how to improve the breach process was to deal with them more quickly, followed by calls for tougher penalties. Magistrates have much confidence in community penalties.

Q How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements about community sentences?
Enable offenders to pay something back to the community Take the offenders’ circumstances into consideration Are punishment for offenders Help to rehabilitate offenders Ensure that offenders consider the impact of their offence on victims Are suitable for offenders whose crime is drug-related Help to protect the public Reduce re-offending 29 33 34 31 36 24 10 12 50 50 70

7 5

84 83 82

% Disagree
Base: All respondents (5,716)

% Agree


Q Recognising that each case needs to be looked at on an individual basis, to what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
Community sentences have benefits over custodial sentences Community sentences are generally more effective for offenders of acquisitive crime due to drug use Custodial sentences are generally more effective for persistent offenders Custodial sentences are the best option to stop spiralling crime More likely to use community sentences because of the prison overcrowding situation % Disagree % Agree 23










Base: All respondents (5,716)

Attitudes towards Probation
Probation is seen to be most effective at enforcement, supervision and work around drug related offences. Opinion is more divided around Probation's performance in 'protecting the public' and 'keeping victims informed'.

Q How effective do you think the Probation Service is at each of the following?
Enforcing community sentences Working with offenders whose crime is drug related The rehabilitation of offenders Reducing re-offending The punishment of offenders Protecting the public Keeping victims of crime informed % Not effective % Effective 55 40 19
Base: All respondents (5,716)

17 16 21 32 37 41 58 65

81 79 76


Overall, magistrates are positive towards pre sentence reports. The two criteria which attract most negative views are the provision of background information about offenders' financial situation or accommodation and the appropriateness of sentence proposal. Free written responses suggest that this is related to a lack of suggestions for custody.

Q How do you rate the pre-sentence reports that you receive from the Probation Service on each of the following criteria?
Overall usefulness of pre-sentencing reports in reaching sentencing decisions Analysis of relevant background information The overall quality of pre-sentencing reports The quality and detail of the information about sentencing options The appropriateness of proposals for sentence in pre-sentence reports % Poor % Good 11
Base: All respondents (5,716)

5 6 6 5 55 66 66 70


Magistrates are also overwhelmingly positive about the content and format of PSRs. Overall, the response regarding the timeliness of reports is positive. However, the local results present a varied picture as in some Areas there are problems meeting these requirements.

Q How frequently would you say each of the following statements are true of the pre-sentence reports that you see?
A definite assessment of risk is presented Reports are ready on time Proposals for sentencing are realistic % Never % Rarely % Sometimes 6 8 8 44 53 68 48 36 21

% Always

Base: All respondents (5,716)

There are calls for more SSRs and for PSRs to be less wordy, perhaps suggesting support for an interim report. 45% said that it would be useful to have such a report; 25% disagreed and 30% did not respond. 3