Thursday, 29 January 2015

Trouble in Court

I suspect it's not just in London that TR has created chaos in courts, with yet more to come as the Offender Rehabilitation Act comes into force. Because the issues are likely to be common throughout England and Wales, practitioners and general readers might be interested in the latest communication from Greater London Napo chair Pat Waterman and in particular the section dealing with courts:-

Following a brief discussion at the monthly meeting with Senior Management on 13th January 2015 we were invited to prepare a paper outlining our concerns. In the week preceding this meeting it was brought to our attention that an individual was being asked to write directly to a judge to explain why her report had not been submitted the requisite two days in advance of the hearing date. We took the view that this was not an appropriate request and that the issue should be dealt with through the normal management channels.

Senior Management intervened and the particular issue was resolved. But it subsequently came to our attention that the possibility and/or threat of a report author being personally summonsed to court to explain themselves was prevalent in a number of Crown Courts in the London area.

Whereas we understand the need for reports to be submitted in a timely manner, and the responsibilities of an individual officer, we are of the view that such threats are unhelpful and an unnecessary cause of stress. Poor performance can be dealt with through the normal management processes but the courts need to be made aware of the pressures our members are working under. The late submission may be as a consequence of staff shortages, inadequate facilities for interviewing or administrative error. These need to be taken into account before an individual is summonsed to account for themselves in a public arena.

We subsequently discovered that there is a wide variety in practice across the courts in London and became quite concerned about this especially as we started to discover that courts were being ranked and staff being told to improve without seemingly any regard to resource issues.

To prepare this paper an email was sent to all members asking the following questions:
• Are the resources at your court sufficient for the tasks you are now being asked to do? If not then please elaborate. Take into consideration facilities such as interview space as well as staffing.
• Are there clear role boundaries between PO tasks, PSO tasks and Administrator tasks? Describe what is required of each grade of staff at your court as we have reason to think that there are disparities in practice across London Courts. In your opinion to what extent do you think that the practices being adopted are being done for reasons of expediency?
• What Training/briefing has been provided, or have you participated in, to deliver the new provision of the Rehabilitation Activity Requirements (RAR) under the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 which will provide for supervision of those serving sentences of less than 12 months. This is due to come into effect on 1st February.
Here are some of the responses:

Receptionist was removed last year so admin team now have to cover that duty, as well as own work. 

Reception shared with SOTU so court staff covers their reception tasks as well by virtue of the co-location.

One of our three Case Administrators is on long term sick leave so admin staff, including the borough senior CA, have been coming in on Saturdays to try to deal with the backlog of work.

One of our four PSO’s is on long term sick leave. An agreement was made with the local SPO that as a result of staff shortages oral reports could not be done

BASS referrals are simply not being done due to staff sickness.

In a busy court team in central London there are 2.5 PO vacancies of a complement of 4.5.

Lack of interview space at court due to increased demand for fast-delivery on the day reports prepared at court.

Lack of access to CPS papers is a real problem and continues to be so. Electronic working has meant CPS are more likely to access the info they need to give facts to the court in hearings, but they then cannot pass this on to us like they could paper copies. It must be requested using the formal procedure which can take some time.

Since RSR and CAS were brought in we have gone down from a 3 FDR maximum per day to 2 maximum per day.

Access to Delius and OASys records can still be an issue post-split. We are often asked to check people's compliance on current or recent orders, and need access to full Delius and OASys records to make sure we give an accurate picture.

As a PO I cover our dedicated domestic violence court, and at times cannot access PSRs prepared for the hearing - once an assessment and report is completed and locked by an NPS PO in OASys, it sometimes reverts to the control of the CRC. This then means NPS court staff cannot access the assessment and print off the report. A request for access takes time to process

Trying to get information from either the CRC or the CPS adds to the stress of court work especially when report writers are now working to tighter deadlines and under more pressure.

Our resources are utterly inadequate. Delius is constantly changing for the worse particularly in relation to CAT/RSR tasks.

Additional CAT/RSR tasks take a minimum of twenty five minutes and usually much longer. No workload account has been taken of this.

I am concerned about what weightings will be given to my work given the extra tasks and the problems we are experiencing.

The demands now being placed onto all the administrative staff are overwhelming.

Agency admin staff can often be absent which in turn piles more pressure on everyone.

Administrators in an OMU team are being asked to assist with overspill of work from the Court team. This in turn puts pressure on the OM teams

The Court office, where the administrators are based, is busy with people knocking on the office door for appointment queries etc which makes it difficult to concentrate

PSR requests that are now filtered through to the admin staff in the OMU, and then onto the designated PO to write, are being processed in the court without the correct information. This causes further work for those in OM teams. 

Greater clarity is required as to suitability for Oral report and what an Oral report actually is.

PSOs in court are expected to offer information/advice on the spot that leads to sentencing and then try to log this on DELIUS as an Oral report - now sometimes needing RSR and CAS too. Again this is an issue when short-staffed and one main reason why Oral Report completions may have fallen.

Role boundaries seem to be going all over the place. With regards to reports there is some confusion over what are PO/PSO/CA roles particularly in relation to the ever proliferating paperwork involved in report preparation. Practice varies between courts.

We are having a local one-hour briefing on ORA. There are two on offer in the week leading up to the 1st February. Those who cannot attend will be given a two page handout.

A one page handout has been provided about RAR

Our court team had a "briefing" given by the SPO. Staff were given a 96 page booklet to read, with no working time set aside to do so, but even in a glance at the briefing a number of errors were noted.

SPO stated that "there has been no guidance from the centre" and court lead ACOs and SPOs have been organising meetings on their own initiative to try to come up with processes and guidance for staff.

The briefing generated more questions than answers.

RAR is very unclear as to how it will work in practice. The main concern is the staffing implications and this is another area of uncertainty. The briefing and manual made no mention of RSR/CAS, but it appears that any one with a sentence of over 1 day needs to be allocated to CRC or NPS and potentially with reporting instructions.

We were told there will be "train the trainer" training sometime in February, and SPOCs in each borough will then train staff. SPOCs have not yet been identified. This training is obviously after the proposed start date for “Through the Gate”.

Lawyers, Court Clerks and Benches also appear to be in the dark about imminent changes and may be looking to the probation staff in court for answers which we are not equipped to give. Some seemed to think that the changes were not in fact coming into play on 1st Feb, and none have been briefed.

Serco staff working in the cells were not aware of the changes and possible impact on them at all - this is concerning as they will be pivotal in distributing licences to those released on the same day, and we will need more access to prisoners in the custody suite post-sentence to do RSR/CAS assessments or give reporting instructions, potentially late in the day.

It is unlikely that custody staff will be willing to wait in order for us to interview in the afternoon. 

There is also an issue re interviewing space where it is also used by solicitors/drug teams/mental health teams.

There is regularly a queue for interview space.


The responses speak for themselves and confirm what we suspected.

The splitting of the Probation Service into two separate organisations put pressure on our members in courts who were tasked with assessing risk and ensuring that cases were allocated correctly. Inadequate resources were provided for these additional tasks and this has resulted in additional work for our members. In some cases the stress involved has had an adverse effect on members’ health. Many courts report staff shortages and lack of resources to do the tasks that they are being asked.

We ask that management recognise this and, while seeking solutions to ameliorate the problem of lack of resources, pay due regard to the pressures that our members are working under. Threats are unhelpful in this situation as may be seeking to compare one court with another.

There is a need for clarity with regard to role boundaries. Too often it seems as if tasks are being completed on the basis of which staff are available rather than which staff are appropriate. Such practices cannot be allowed to continue.

As members at court are being asked to do more tasks, concerns were also raised about the facilities available to enable them to do so. It would appear that not all courts have enough space to enable members to conduct interviews safely and appropriately.

Preparation for the changes due to be implemented on 1st February have been woefully inadequate. Our members are greatly concerned and worried about being placed in invidious positions in open court. Such matters need to be addressed as a matter of urgency by Senior Management.

We are aware that some of the problems are not of the making of the Senior Management Team of the NPS in London. Nevertheless, local management must take responsibility for local implementation and for the welfare of staff.

We would be willing to meet with local management to discuss how, within the national strictures and instructions, court work practices can be developed to ensure the welfare and well being of our members.

Pat Waterman
Branch Chair
Greater London Branch NAPO

Finally, I've also become aware of this request from the Guardian through Napo HQ:-  
28th January 2015 
Dear Colleague 
Guardian feature on Probation staff morale – Urgent request for members to take part 
We have been contacted by a journalist, Tamsin Rutter, who works for the Guardian Public Leaders Network - - and who is planning a feature about TR and the impact it is having on probation staff. 
She would like to talk to Napo members about the impact on staff such as morale, workloads and other personal testimonies and is happy for this to be on an anonymous basis and in confidence. 
If you or any members of your branch would be willing to talk to Tamsin could you let me know by Wednesday 4 February and I will either pass the contact details on to her or give the member her details so they can contact her direct (whichever is preferred). It would be useful to know if the member is in a CRC or the NPS and which area they are from, just so we can make sure she is speaking to a mixture of people. 
Email me on or contact Kath Falcon – tel. 020 7362 9981.

Best wishes,
Tania Bassett


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. "What astounds me, considering the resources Grayling's MOJ has thrown at this monster it has created, is that detailed training to manage the split is starting so late."

      Believe me, Andrew, what training that is available is not detailed in the slightest, and provides more questions than answers. When I think back to the lengthy training we had for the 2003 Act, I am astounded at the shambolic situation that has been allowed to unfold.

  2. The sentencers will be required to impose a Rehabilitation Activity Requirement based on a number of days. The CRC will, post-sentence, decide what activity is to be undertaken. The contentious part for me is that the CRC can, if it deems it appropriate, 'complete' an RAR WITHOUT USING ALL OF THE DAYS. So the sentence is, in fact, determined by the CRC OM, not by the Court. Also, a 'day' is any single event and could be 10 minutes or three hours. It's all up to the CRC. The only checks and balances are the contract management process and we know about the MOJ's record on that. The potential for abuse and tokenism is massive. I fear for the credibility of community sentences, I really do.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. 35 hours a week 'job search' (which is compulsory anyway if on JSA), will become part of the rehabilitation activity. All the privateers have to do is register the client with their employment team. Job done!!

    3. Not as facile as the Residence Order, used to make orders 'more onerous' by mags in Leics. Basically, rather than actually make the order more onerous as they are compelled to, some bright spark realised that ordering the offender to reside in their own home - the Residence Order- meant that the court had, technically, added to the original order and discharged it's duty whilst actually doing fuck all. Result, one grinning client, free to carry on taking the piss and several pissed off colleagues, knowing they will have to continue repeating the administratively cumbersome process however many times it took, before the inevitable Conditional Discharge. What effect that has on victims has never been researched, to my knowledge. The CJS has a lot to answer for. Tony

    4. "from the courts to the staff of the previous cleaning and catering companies"

      This is a rather offensive statement to make, after all these "cleaning company staff" are in fact the same probation staff that were working under the public sector. You can't have it both ways - most people seem to be making the point that proabation staff are well qualified, highly professional, committed yadda yadda. If that is true then surely allowing them to decide what activity is best for their clients to undertake is better than letting the court do the same? Lets face it, much of CP activity is a waste of time which does nothing to limit offending behaviour, surely resources are better used by targeting activities at offenders that have some chance of working?

      This blog has become a bit of a punch and judy show of late with most posters painting worthless one dimensional caricatures of the "caterers and cleaners" and making clear their intentions to undermine the future delivery of the service to which they pretend to be dedicated to. I'm certain the coming changes will contain both good and bad, but only by engaging with the new owners will we have any chance of positively influencing the process for the benefit of the clients.

    5. Personal opinion of a disillusioned officer: The same staff we may be, however we no longer have any scope to work with offenders on a professional judgement basis. CRC's have been rushing in to a one size fits all approach whereby we are instructed to deliver one piecemeal short intervention with everyone based on no evidence base. Yep and the cleaners and caterers have not even begun their dissection of our service and values....CRC management teams sold us down the river long before the chefs stepped in.

    6. 15:03. 'Only by engaging with the new owners will we have any chance of positively influencing the process, etc' .

      There, encapsulated in one sentence: Justice is officially 'Under New Ownership'.

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    8. "My only grouse with the staff of the catering and cleaning companies and the recently categorised Civil Service staff in the 2nd version of an NPS is that they chose to stay"

      I do wish you'd drop this deeply insensitive line Andrew as you're beginning to irritate me and a few others I suspect.

    9. Anon 14:57 "Not as facile as the Residence Order, used to make orders 'more onerous' by mags in Leics."

      I put my hand up to this ploy in my area when prosecuting breaches as CDO a few years ago - it can work both ways and be beneficial in the right circumstances.

    10. Andrew, if you can identify any roles for staff who would love to move but have mortgages to pay please let me know by return.

    11. If you're willing to pay the mortage, bills and feed and cloth the kids we'll all go tommorow.
      You may not of noticed, but even with all those tranferable skills, the job market isn't what it used to be.
      No doubt many staff are looking for a way out as I type- but everyones circumstances are different and specific.
      Please stop trying to make people that are in bad and uncomfortabe possitions feel worse then they already do.
      That may not be your intention Andrew, but that is its consequence.
      Please be a little more sensitive.

    12. anon@ 15:18
      "we no longer have any scope to work with offenders on a professional judgement basis. CRC's have been rushing in to a one size fits all approach whereby we are instructed to deliver one piecemeal short intervention"

      So you are already delivering the new CRC model, or have seen the whole model? I thought the new owners didn't get the keys until Monday.

    13. "There, encapsulated in one sentence: Justice is officially 'Under New Ownership'."

      Probation is under new ownership, and probation is not justice.

    14. Justice is supposed to be just. Justly administered by sentencers, not delegated to a private company. So, my original comment, that you repeat above, is sort of, correct. Although it is wrong. If you see what I mean.....

    15. "Justly administered by sentencers" ..and probation is not a sentencer nor are the CRC's meant to be.

      I think that the idea is to delegate rehabilitation to private companies. Should this type of service only be provided by the public sector is a matter for debate.

      Whether or not they (the privates) will do a good job of it we don't yet know, but I for one am prepared to reserve judgement, get involved and work with them to deliver the best service we can.

      If that proves impossible, or grossly undermines the T&C's of staff, I shall exercise my right to leave.

    16. Well it's a moot point - but in effect the CRC will be able to determine the extent of the sentence and what is required as part of the RAR - see Saturday's post.

  3. Off topic, but shouldn't someone be asking serious questions of Graylings refusal last year to allow research into the degree of sexual assults in prisons given the statistics the MoJ have published today?

    1. A bleak picture of a rising tide of sexual assaults and violent attacks inside prisons across England and Wales has been revealed by the latest Ministry of Justice figures.

      The first separately published figures for sexual assaults in prisons show that there were 170 cases reported in 2013 – an increase of more than 50% on the 113 reported the previous year and the highest recorded level for at least 10 years.

      The official figures also confirm that there were 84 self-inflicted deaths in custody in 2014 – up from 75 the previous year and the highest number for seven years.

      The number of deaths would be expected to rise in line with the increase in prison population but the rate of self-inflicted deaths is now rising more rapidly at 1.0 for every 1,000 prisoners, compared with 0.7 for every 1,000 in 2012. Incidents of self-harm are also up by more than 25%.

      The quarterly MoJ S afety in Custody figures also show that the relentless rise in the prison population, which now stands at 84,865, has been accompanied by increasing levels of violence behind bars.

      The total number of recorded assaults, including fights, rose to 15,763 in the 12 months to September 2014 – an increase of more than 10% over the previous 12 months. The level of assaults on prison staff at 3,470 incidents has reached its highest level since 2006.

    2. Maybe Grayling had to say he refused to allow the research as it would have been less embarassing than saying the MoJ had lost the data in the post. Today's revelations are 'disappointing'.

      It feels like the MoJ have lost the plot in general under Grayling's command.

    3. What I find disingenuous about the official line on this, is the reference to 'legal highs' being responsible for the upsurge in violent incidents. Correct me if I'm wrong but just because you can buy them in the high street, in the same way as you can buy a bottle of beer, how and why would they be add any more volatility to the mix when other substances are freely available in most institutions?. My nephew says it was an open secret in the prison he was in that 'Listeners' opened their conversations with 'what is it you need?, I can get it for you'.

  4. Yes I can confirm that my prison is in the hands of drug dealers and bullies. With so few staff and the ones there so demoralised gangs sell the drugs and collect the debt with extreme menace. Many young men in the prison I work stay behind their doors too frightened to associate. They are being treated worse than animals, staff and inmates that is.


    1. Channel 4 agrees papa.

    2. Highlighting a lack of security, UK prisoners are brazenly uploading pictures of drugs, cash and even a dangerous weapon on their illegal social media accounts, a Channel 4 News investigation finds.

      Channel 4 News has uncovered a cache of pictures and videos posted to password protected social media sites by prisoners. The images obtained reveal contraband, violence, a weapon, piles of cash and alleged drug dealing.

      The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice revealed that serious assaults in prisons in England and Wales had reached a 10-year high. In the year to September 2014 there were 1,958 assaults including 431 against staff.

      In 2013 the number of mobile phones retrieved by prison staff was 7,451 - despite the fact that prisoners found with smart phones can have up to two years added to their sentence.

      According figures from the Ministry of Justice, the number of drug seizures in prisons has significantly increased. In the year to the end of March 2011, there were 3,700 drug seizures - this had risen to nearly 4,500 in 2013-14.Peter McFarlin, chairman of the prison officers association (POA), told Channel 4 News that security operations in UK prisons have become "impossible" due to lack of staff: "It's extremely disheartening for professional prison staff, but they need resources to be able to combat that sort of activity.

      So why isn't more being done to tackle the problem? Union leaders blame the cuts.

      "Since 2010, 7,500 frontline operational prison staff have left the service, 3,500 in one calendar year to 2014 - that means that targeted searching is not taking place, basic searching is not taking place, intelligence-led operations are going to be impossible to perform within the prison as they were in the past."

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Newsflash folks the vast majority of the contraband in prisons comes in via corrupt staff as anyone who has ever been a "Resident" of HMPS knows. Until the MoJ properly tackles the situation it will only deteriorate because it is not going to be dealt with by rhetoric and bluster (Grayling's Modus Operandi). The corrupt staff and officers can earn hundreds each week for bringing in drugs, mobile phones, SIM cards, booze etc and as virtually none of them EVER get searched there is literally little risk to these staff members. If the MoJ actually admitted the scale of corruptions amongst its staff and put in place some very simple and cost effective things you would find the amount of contraband getting into prisons decimated overnight. At every prison I've been in, every con knew which officers were able to get you what and for how much. It's basically part of the induction process!

  6. I think it's probably right to explain the background to a number of comments that have been removed from this thread - two by me and the rest by the author of further comments.

    Basically the person concerned seems to have taken exception to my intervention early on in the thread:-

    "My only grouse with the staff of the catering and cleaning companies and the recently categorised Civil Service staff in the 2nd version of an NPS is that they chose to stay"

    "I do wish you'd drop this deeply insensitive line Andrew as you're beginning to irritate me and a few others I suspect."

    As editor and moderator of this blog I have always tried to encourage full and open debate. It's most unusual for me to remove any comment, but in this instance I decided it was necessary for three reasons. First the insensitive suggestion yet again that collaegues should have left the Service rather than be part of TR, despite my earlier request to the author not to do this.

    Second, the unwillingmess or inability of the author to understand that the suggestion is grossly insensitive to many probation staff, and thirdly the sidetracking of a comment thread for no good reason in my view.