Updated: Aug 3
If you have pleaded guilty to sexual offences, you should expect the court to order a Pre-sentence Report (PSR). The constituent parts of the PSR are explained in a previous blog post. The PSR helps the court to decide the balance between punishment and rehabilitation in your sentencing, and a good report will also consider the need, or otherwise, of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO). The probation officer who writes the report will be expected to propose a sentence for the court to consider.
The probation officer will interview you without your solicitor being present. Through this meeting, they will try to gain an understanding of your motivations for offending, and how much insight you have. They are also interested in any changes you have made to behaviours and to lifestyle factors that may have contributed. They will also scrutinise your understanding of the harms done and collect factual information from you such as your childhood experience, employment, accommodation, relationships and health.
The report is clearly very important and influential, but these interviews rarely last longer than 90 minutes and it is common for probation officers to allocate 60 minutes to them. The motivations and context to sexual offences are usually complex, and although the officer will be skilled in interviewing and writing repots, they are unlikely to be a specialist in understanding sexual offending. So, they have a difficult task to create a well-informed and wholly accurate pre-sentence report. If you do not give an insightful interview, they may have to rely on prosecution papers which will only state selective factual information on the offending rather than any wider context to your behaviour.
As with any defendant going to one of these interviews, being able to explore and discuss your behaviour is important, including what you have done to make changes and prevent future offending. The court will be particularly interested in knowing your attitude and insight into the harms caused to victims. The work of Safer Lives is popular with the courts because it helps to address these areas.
Our practitioners have written hundreds of pre-sentence reports and below we offer some tips on how to prepare and conduct yourself at a PSR interview, so the probation officer has the best chance of advising the court appropriately.
Firstly, understand that the courts generally like probation officers and their reports. A PSR is ordered because the court wants to know the answers to some questions about the defendant, and the probation officer’s job is to ask these questions and report back to the court. So, respect the appointment as if you are in court. Do not be late, dress sensibly and make sure you have plenty of time available in case it is a long interview.
Secondly, we advise that you go into the interview ready to answer questions and to discuss around these. The officer simply wants to ask questions, the person to answer them, and for these exchanges to evolve into short discussions. If you find yourself going off on tangents or dominating the meeting, then take a step back and bring yourself back to the questions being asked.
Thirdly, take with you any evidence of rehabilitative work you have done whilst under investigation, and any personal references you have accumulated. If you have copies, leave these with the officer. If you have finished a structured course of rehabilitation (such as a the Safer Lives Programme or Stop It Now!/Lucy Faithfull’s Inform Plus or Engage ), take the completion letters or certificates to the first court hearing where your solicitor can give it to the Probation Service before they interview you. But take these to the interview also, in case the probation officer hasn’t seen them.
Fourthly, the probation officer should be polite and courteous, but they aren’t known for their impeccable hospitality. So, take a bottle of water (or other drink) with you. Take tissues also, it's common for interviewees to become upset.
Fifthly, be prepared to speak about some very personal things, and try not to worry if you get upset within the discussions. The probation officer should be sensitive to you, but some of their questions might also be quite blunt and direct. Nothing should phase them, but it is a deeply personal and exposing experience for you. You will likely feel tired, even exhausted afterwards. If you can, speak to a loved one afterwards so that you can process your feelings about how the interview has gone. If you are a client of Safer Lives, your practitioner will be happy to take a call and have a debrief with you.
Lastly, whilst it is difficult, be as honst as you can. If the officer thinks you are being intentionally dishonest or evasive, this will be evidenced in the report they write. We understand it may be over two years since your offence, by this point, but the probation officer will ask you to talk about the events as though they were yesterday.
Remember, the Probation Service are expected to give you a fair hearing. A good interview helps them to write a professional and insightful report. The probation officer won’t expect perfect answers, because there aren’t any, and they shouldn’t try to trick you or catch you out. They will expect you to be nervous and worried, and will be surprised if you are not. On most occasions, at the end of the interview, they will give an indication of what sentence they are likely to propose in their report. It is within the culture of the Probation Service to favour community sentences where this is realistic.