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National Objectives for Social Work Services in the Criminal Justice System: Standards Social Enquiry Reports and associated Court Services

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National Objectives for Social Work Services in the Criminal Justice System: Standards - Social Enquiry Reports and associated Court Services

CHAPTER 3: ISSUES TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT WHEN GATHERING INFORMATION FOR A REPORT

3.1Report writers must take the following issues into account when gathering information for a report:

3.1.1confidentiality;

3.1.2the extent of contact with the offender and his or her family;

3.1.3the desirability of home visits;

Confidentiality

3.2The report writer is making enquiries on behalf of the court and the subjects of reports should be clear that the report is not a confidential document and that information contained in a report may be made public during the court hearing. The report writer should tell the offender that copies of the report will be given to the judge, the procurator fiscal and to his or her defence agent and explain why. The report writer should also explain that reports may be put to other uses, for example, during an appeal against sentence, as part of prison records and during consideration for parole. This means that reports may be read by a range of staff working within prisons.

Information from Third Parties

3.3Whilst what the offender thinks about confidentiality is a consideration, the ultimate test is the importance of the information for the court. If information which the offender provides can be checked or it comes from a reliable source other than the offender, the court is likely to attach more weight to it and it could prove crucial to a sentencing decision. Report writers should explain this to the offender when they indicate that they are intending to contact a third party. If the offender objects, the report writer can do one of two things:

3.3.1proceed to make the contact after explaining the reasons and seeking the agreement of his or her manager;

3.3.2not proceed but make clear in the report that the scope of the report has been limited because the offender has refused to agree. It is then up to the court to decide whether the case is continued so that the information can be obtained.

3.4In both cases, the report writer should keep the offender informed about what is happening. The offender has the option of consulting his or her lawyer or anybody else about what to do.

Medical Information

3.5The principle that medical information is normally provided only with the patient's consent applies equally to offenders. There are however circumstances where it is necessary or desirable for doctors to disclose information without consent. These are outlined in a code of practice issued by The Scottish Office in 1990 and include

3.5.1where disclosure is in the public interest;

3.5.2where disclosure is necessary to prevent serious damage to the health of a third party;

3.5.3where disclosure is in the best interests of the patient.

3.6When report writers need medical information they should explain why to the offender and ask for his or her consent. If the report writer thinks that there may be a serious risk to others, the doctor may disclose information without consent. It helps doctors if report writers can be precise about the information they need, why they need it and what they will do with it.

Highly Sensitive Information

3.7If there is highly sensitive information which the report writer thinks the court should know, he or she can either:

3.7.1highlight a request on the front sheet of a report that a particular piece of information is not referred to in open court and therefore not available to the press or the general public;

3.7.2not include the information in the report but discuss the matter in chambers with the presiding judge in the presence of the offender, his or her defence agent and the procurator fiscal.

Protecting the Confidentiality of Third Parties

3.8If third parties wish to protect the confidentiality of the information they provide, they should be invited to write to the court explaining why. They can be given no guarantee that information will not be made public and they should be told that it will have to be shared with the procurator fiscal and defence agent.

3.9If third parties do not wish to make essential information available to the court, report writers should note in the report that the third party has refused.

The Extent of Contact with the Offender and His or Her Family

3.10The ground to be covered when interviewing the offender is set out at paras 2.6 - 2.21. In addition, the report writer must discuss with the offender:

3.10.1the possible sentencing options available to the court;

3.10.2 what might be the most constructive disposal from the point of view of making amends and avoiding or reducing future offending;

3.10.3in appropriate cases, the offender's willingness to co-operate in undertaking Community Service or in an action plan linked to probation or deferred sentence.

3.11In discussing the above, the report writer must make clear that the court is responsible for deciding what the sentence will be.

3.12In some cases one interview with the offender may be sufficient to gather all the relevant information. In others, the report writer may need to undertake further work before writing the report. This could include:-

3.12.1obtaining more information or clarifying or verifying information already obtained;

3.12.2interviewing members of the offender's family;

3.12.3visiting the offender's home;

3.12.4contacting third parties, especially other agencies, about resources which might be provided as part of any proposed action plan;

3.12.5interviewing the offender again.

3.12.6In cases of domestic violence, report writers should, with her consent interview the woman partner to establish how the current offence may or may not fit into a pattern of abusive behaviour (this interview should be conducted separately from the male offender). They should also contact the police with a view to establishing whether there have been any call-outs to the address alleging abuse.

3.13If, at the end of the first interview, the report writer decides that no further work is needed, he or she must close the interview by discussing:

3.13.1the main contents of his or her report;

3.13.2any plans to be included in the report for the court's consideration as part of the review of feasible sentencing options.

A Second Interview

3.14A second interview will normally be required when it is necessary to:

3.14.1obtain more information from the offender;

3.14.2discuss issues arising from the information which the offender provided at the first interview or which has been obtained from other sources since then;

3.14.3continue the review of the subject's offending and possible sentencing outcomes;

3.14.4carry out further work on an action plan to be put to the court;

3.14.5discuss the content of the report, including any conclusions and plans to be included in the report, as part of the review of feasible sentencing options.

3.15If the offender is remanded in custody and contact following the first interview is necessary, the report writer may request the prison based social worker to make this contact. This may be particularly appropriate where the main purpose of the second contact is to confirm arrangements already made or check or obtain factual information.

Home Visits

3.16Information from and about the offender and his or her family is an essential element in the assessment. Talking with members of the offender's family and visiting the offender's home provide an extra dimension to this assessment and help build an overall picture. Report writers should as a general rule visit the home. There may, however, be some circumstances where contact with family members is office based or carried out by phone, for example where time is limited or where there are concerns about the report writer's safety.