When listening to His Honour Judge Heath on the BBC's 'Today' programme this morning talking about how he approaches sentencing, I was surprised that he failed to mention Pre Sentence Reports at all. Now experience has taught me that Learned Judges take great care over their pronouncements, are routinely meticulous and do not forget things. So, what are we to make of this omission; is Judge Heath saying something about PSR's? If he is, it serves to confirm my grave concern for their quality over recent years, and especially since we were saddled with OASys.
In my experience, you always have to put a bit more effort into a Crown Court report. This is partly because you suspect it will come under greater scrutiny, not just from the Judge, but from Counsel as well, and of course the offences are likely to be far more serious with a consequently serious outcome. I also like to attend in person in difficult cases if time allows, because I feel this sends a powerful message to the Judge and defence barrister that you are serious about your possibly brave recommendation. Again in my experience, if the Judge knows you are present, they will invariably take the opportunity of asking for clarification or even invite you into the box if they have particular concerns. Now clearly in such a situation, you do not want the embarrassment of having to answer to anything less than a very professional piece of work.
Sadly, my gut feeling is that routinely up and down the country, Crown Court PSR's are being submitted that are full of formulaic language, strung together with cranky computer-generated paragraphs that in essence lack any soul - any feeling of passion or hint of colour. They are just, well - bland and routine. Ask yourself this - what would you make of such a document when trying to weigh matters up and pass sentence? Possibly ignore it?