Pre-sentence reports are being piloted at 15 magistrates’ courts as part of the government's pledge to adopt a 'smarter approach' to sentencing.

The reports help judges and magistrates assess the risk posed by an offender, the factors underlying their offending and the strengths they can draw on to move away from crime when they are considering imposing a community or custodial sentence. However, the number of pre-sentence reports has fallen from 156,659 in 2009 to 75,900 in 2019 – a 52% drop.

Lord chancellor Robert Buckland announced in his A Smarter Approach to Sentencing white paper that he would test new ways to deliver pre-sentence reports in the magistrates’ courts as part of a ‘fundamental shift’ in the government’s approach to sentencing.

The Ministry of Justice, HM Courts & Tribunals Service and Probation Service have developed an ‘alternative delivery model’ to improve the quality of information presented to court at each of the pilot sites.

A ‘before plea’ pre-sentence process will be encouraged and monitored to identify defendants earlier in the criminal justice system. Probation officers will receive targeted training to deliver high-quality reports. Short format written reports will be provided for female offenders, young adult offenders and those deemed to be at risk of custody, who were identified as commonly having complex needs.

Initial findings will be collected after six months, followed by a full evaluation after 12 months. The longer-term outcomes of offenders throughout the year after sentence will also be assessed.

The ministry said: ‘It is important to note that black, Asian and minority ethnic populations generally show an overrepresentation in the offender population and the evaluation will be analysing this data to identify if it is possible to discern any impacts for people from ethic minority communities.’

Analysing the changing use of pre-sentence reports in 2018, the Centre for Justice Innovation said cases with pre-sentence reports are over 10 times more likely to result in community sentences.