Court Officers – the Cinderella of the Justice World?

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14/02/2018

Court Officers – the Cinderella of the Justice World?

At the time comments were invited for the select committee on the impact of TR and with an eye on E3, I responded with unfettered gaze on the changing landscape of what used to be known as the National Probation Service. Not a term applicable to all the work carried out by members. Establishing how this came about and its impact will take more copy than provided for here.

Attempts to provide an insight into the role of a court officer post TR would not be helped by trying to outline a typical day in the life of etc. Most of my time, like many others, involves sitting in front of a computer screen. Opticians must be doing rather well as a result.

Outside of this there is always the unexpected from the variety of cases I come across. The job provides me with the chance to engage with disparate people. The problem is, once having won the confidence and trust of those to be sentenced; I often find the woefully inadequate short format report restricts my capacity to share with the court a lot of what I have established. The rest, within the limited time available, I am expected to provide through increasing workarounds.

Often the need for speedy assessments limits the quality, and therefore the value of these, including the self-gratifying Oasys tool. I am aware this makes more work for those down the line who have to complete initial sentence plans. I greatly sympathise when the impact of meeting the restrictions around “same day reports” means increased workloads for all concerned.

The court officer’s dilemma is: will the assessment be good enough? Have I missed anything? And God forbid when meeting the challenge of contacting agencies for background checks adds to the pressure, did I call the risk right? Then of course, mustn’t allow the case to fall on the wrong side of the divide.

Presenting oral reports at court, while not for everyone, helps to improve the “Probation Profile” where in my experience we still enjoy some reputational kudos. The fault lines on this arise from the pressures faced by CRCs. Staff there are striving to make up for the failure of a dysfunctional organisational structure the courts are becoming increasingly aware of.

Coming back to where I started, the current court set up does not necessarily provide for an effective use of time as we still remain being held hostage as the Cinderella of the justice world. Efficiency is impacted on by a grossly inadequate IT system and being excellent, well that’s where my colleagues and I excel. We are recognised, but more often when the wheel falls off.

Keith Stokeld
National Vice-Chair

1 Comment

  1. Eve Chester says:

    I don’t work in Court anymore nor do I write Court reports and I miss both- though not to the extent of wanting to apply for a specialist role as when I did work in a specialist Court team I missed client work and resented the restrictions on professional discretion for managing time and dealing with ambivalent to contemptuous attitudes towards Probation held by some in Judiciary and legal colleagues. Yes some afforded professional respect but you could never take it as a given- some Judges being appallingly rude to almost everybody(the way in which idiosyncratic behaviour of Judiciary in particular is humoured or tolerated in this country is bizarre) The particular development since TR that I find so sad is how we have turned(been forced to turn??)into composing more and more speedy/on the day reports or oral reports. I find it hard to believe this is really best practice but as I don’t now attend Court maybe I am missing something. Most of my work(in NPS OMU) seems to be with people on Licence and the PSR doesn’t typically loom large as a key document which is not how I recall things were historically. Maybe it’s a case of rose-tinteditis again-I seem very prone to this condition when pondering on Probation issues.

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