Victims' Commissioner welcomes Ministry of Justice moves to exempt high-risk offenders from the presumption against shorter sentences, but underscores the need for robust pre-sentence reports and a properly resourced Probation Service.
The Victims’ Commissioner, Baroness Newlove, has welcomed Ministry of Justice moves to ensure that the presumption against short prison sentences will not apply to those who are deemed to present a significant risk of psychological or physical harm to an individual. However, she urged caution that the Probation Service must be fully resourced for this to be effective, ensuring that judges are provided with sound risk assessments in pre-sentence reports.
As part of the Sentencing Bill, the government has announced that the most dangerous offenders will continue to remain behind bars. Judges and magistrates will retain full discretion to lock up the most prolific offenders and those who breach a court order such as a restraining or stalking prevention order.
The Victims’ Commissioner, Baroness Newlove, said:
Victim safety is paramount, so I welcome today’s announcement that the presumption against shorter sentences won’t apply to those who are assessed as presenting a high risk of psychological or physical harm.
This will only work effectively if judges are provided with sound risk assessments as part of a pre-sentence report. It is important the government makes sure the Probation Service is resourced to deliver these reports and that staff are trained and experienced in making good risk assessments.
We must acknowledge victim confidence in community orders is low: all too often compliance is perceived as poor and enforcement weak. I welcome the plan that offenders who breach the conditions of a community order will still face the prospect of a prison sentence. However this requires the Probation Service and the courts being equipped to make this prospect a reality.
I have also called on the government to listen to victims’ concerns when deciding on the conditions attached to a community order. It is important that victims’ concerns are heard and considered. This approach, successfully applied in parole hearings, will bolster victims’ confidence that justice is being done and their needs are taken into account.
Notes to Editors
The Victims’ Commissioner has previously sent private correspondence to the Lord Chancellor calling for victims to be consulted when deciding on the community order conditions.
Ministry of Justice announcement (14 November)