Assisting and Advising the Sentencing Decision Process: the Pursuit of ‘Quality’ in Pre-Sentence Reports

Simon Halliday, Cyrus Tata, Nicola Burns, Fergus McNeill, Neil Hutton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pre-sentence reports are an increasingly prevalent feature of the sentencing process. Yet, although judges have been surveyed about their general views, we know relatively little about how such reports are read and interpreted by judges considering sentence in specifi c cases, and, in particular, how these judicial interpretations compare with the intentions of the writers of those same reports. This article summarizes some of the main fi ndings of a four-year qualitative study in Scotland examining: how reports are constructed by report writers; what the writers aim to convey to the sentencing judge; and how those same reports are then interpreted and used in deciding sentence. Policy development
has been predicated on the view that higher-quality reports will help to ‘ sell ’ community penalties to the principal consumers of such reports (judges). This research suggests that, in the daily use and interpretation of reports, this quality-led policy agenda is defeated by a discourse of judicial ‘ ownership ’ of sentencing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)835-855
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Journal of Criminology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2008


  • criminal justice; social work; pre-sentencing reports; sentencing

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