Friday 30 September 2022

Reasons To Be Cheerful

This from today's Times:- 

Defiant Liz Truss set to curb benefits to fund budget 
Labour surges to 33-point lead over Tories

Liz Truss has insisted that she has the “right plan” for Britain as a poll for The Times found that the Tories have slumped to their lowest level of public support in a quarter of a century. The survey, by YouGov, showed that Labour had surged to a record 33-point lead over the Conservatives, after a week of market turmoil triggered by the prime minister’s tax-cutting budget.

Truss said she would not change course and would push ahead with government savings to pay for her £45 billion stimulus package. Ministers are drawing up plans for real-term benefits cuts, saving £5 billion by increasing them in line with earnings, rather than with inflation.

Well, who'd have thought that then! A week ago there seemed little prospect of a Labour government any time soon, what with a majority of the public not knowing who Keir Starmer was and those that did know thinking he was 'boring'. Politics has yet again been turned upside down with the Tory 'nasty' party proving their credentials by giving money to the rich as they prepare to rob the poor by cutting their benefits. 

Of course this wouldn't unduly worry the Tory faithful because it's just how they are, but trashing the economy in one day by causing a run on the pound and pushing interest rates up not only for government borrowing, but the nation's mortgages as well, has suddenly gained all our attention and in the process sealed the fate of possibly hundreds of Tory backbenchers. 

It's a slow burn situation that can only get worse as the next General Election date approaches, fixed rate mortgages end and the harsh reality of massive monthly repayments hits home. All self-inflicted by a new prime minister and chancellor who think they're playing a game and wonder which levers to play with next. Suddenly it's Labour that look to be fiscally responsible and a 'boring' prime minister might be just the ticket. Their approval rating has rocketed just as letters of no confidence start arriving at the 1922 Committee! 

So, with a genuine chance of a change in government at last, where is the campaign for probation breaking free of HMPPS command and control and regaining operational independence? Does the Labour Shadow Prison and Probation minister Ellie Reeves know what we're about and why being subsumed by a uniformed service is a disaster? I really, really hope so, but sadly her video message yesterday marking another one of those bloody pat-on-the-back award/thankyou things - 'Hidden Heroes' - hit entirely the wrong note with a suggestion we get medals!! 

Look - probation staff want proper payment and a break from the medal-wearing HM Prison Service - we do a different job; we have a different professional culture and we want our independence back!   

Thursday 29 September 2022

IPP To Do List

Before we leave the IPP situation and move on to other matters, not least the increased prospect of a Labour government sooner rather than later, it's worth highlighting the recommendations from the Justice Committee report:-

Conclusions and recommendations

Prison-based barriers to progression

1. Given the extensive and complex nature of the challenges faced by IPP sentenced individuals, we find the absence of detail in the IPP Action Plan surprising. It lacks a clear strategic priority and ownership, as well as operational detail, timeframes, and performance measures. (Paragraph 38)

2. We recommend the MoJ and HMPPS develop a new action plan, which should include clear performance measures for each of its workstreams. The new action plan should also, against each workstream, include an accountable owner for the workstream, and a timeframe for completion of each workstream activity so that there can be greater accountability and scrutiny. A new version of the IPP Action Plan should be published by the end of Q1 2023, with a report on the operation of the plan and any revisions to it published annually thereafter. (Paragraph 39)

3. The psychological harm caused by IPP sentences is a considerable barrier to progression for some IPP prisoners. The indefinite nature of the sentence has contributed to feelings of hopelessness and despair that has resulted in high levels of self-harm and some suicides within the IPP population. In addition to this, IPP prisoners distrust the people and services that are necessary to support their progression. In identifying solutions to the IPP problem, the MoJ, HMPPS and Parole Board must acknowledge the psychological harm caused by the IPP sentence, and the challenges this presents regarding progression. The MoJ and HMPPS should also set out how they intend to improve access to mental health support for IPP prisoners, including transfers to secure hospitals and therapeutic settings. (Paragraph 58)

4. Additionally, there are a small number of mentally unwell prisoners who are subsequently transferred to a secure mental hospital. For these prisoners, the process for post-tariff release is more complex, and we are not clear what support is offered to those who, after a period of treatment, are no longer deemed detainable under the Mental Health Act 1983, but do not go on to meet the Parole Board’s test for release, and are then transferred back to prison from the secure hospital. The MoJ, HMPPS and the Parole Board should set out what support is available to those prisoners who are remitted back to prison after a period of time spent under section in a secure hospital, and how they are supported to progress in their sentence. (Paragraph 59)

5. We are concerned to hear that the availability of appropriate courses for IPP prisoners is limited. The MoJ and HMPPS must ensure that there are enough places on courses available to all those who need them. As part of the IPP action plan, the MoJ and HMPPS should set out what work is being done to expand provision of courses for IPP prisoners, reduce waiting lists, and ensure that IPP prisoners are being held in appropriate category prisons. (Paragraph 71)

6. Programmes, pathways and other interventions are often relied upon by HMPPS and the Parole Board to help determine risk, and so it is vital that they deliver the outcomes they purport to deliver. We are concerned about the lack of transparency surrounding programme evaluations, and so cannot be confident that existing programmes deliver adequate outcomes for prisoners. Some programmes have been evaluated yet have been found ineffective; other programmes are being used and relied upon yet have not been evaluated or, where they have, the evaluation has not been published, as has been the case with Professor Paul Moran’s evaluation of the Offender Personality Disorder Pathway. (Paragraph 80)

7. The Government should publish the commissioned report from Professor Paul Moran into the Offender Personality Disorder pathway by December 2022. In addition, the MoJ and HMPPS should set out what work is being done to ensure that all programmes delivered and relied upon by HMPPS and the Parole Board deliver adequate outcomes for prisoners; and, where they do not, they should set out the process for reviewing delivery of those programmes. (Paragraph 81)

Parole, release on licence and community-based barriers to progression

8. Our inquiry has highlighted wider resource issues within the Probation Service and the Parole Board. We have heard about frequent delays, untrained Parole Board members, frequent changes in professionals essential to the parole process, uncertainty following a negative parole decision and issues with the probation service. For the reasons set out, we consider the parole process as it stands, and the probation service’s involvement in it, to be ineffective, and posing a significant barrier to progression for IPP offenders. There needs to be sufficient resources for the Parole Board to consider IPP cases without undue delays. The Parole Board should prioritise people serving IPPs, and provide additional training to its members in understanding the impacts of the sentence. Only trained and experienced Parole Board members should oversee IPP cases. (Paragraph 93)

9. It is unacceptable that some prisoners do not have access to a community probation officer. HMPPS should set out why this is the case, and what work is being done to ensure that all IPP prisoners have access to a community probation officer to support them to progress through their sentence. We are also concerned that in some cases, the probation officer may have little knowledge of, or prior contact with, the offender. There needs to be sufficient resource for community-based offender managers to provide IPP prisoners with the support needed to prepare for parole hearings. HMPPS should set out what it is doing to ensure that probation officers have an adequate level of contact with the offender prior to their parole hearing. (Paragraph 94)

10. Spending an indefinite period of time on licence in the community is detrimental to the mental health and rehabilitation of IPP offenders, and in many cases is not proportionate to the index offence. We welcome the introduction of automatic referral by the Secretary of State for licence termination at the 10-year point. We would welcome regular updates on the number of IPP offenders whose licence is terminated as a result of this mechanism. (Paragraph 104)

11. Furthermore, we support a reduction of the qualifying licence period from 10 years to five years. This change would go some way to restoring proportionality to the IPP sentence. The MoJ should initiate legislation to this effect as soon as possible. (Paragraph 105)

12. The recalled population of IPP offenders is a growing concern and will soon be larger than the population of IPP prisoners who have never been released from custody. The Government needs to devote far greater energy and resource to tackling the “recall merry-go-round”, ensuring that IPP prisoners who do secure their release are able to live a successful life thereafter, avoiding unnecessary recall to prison. We agree with the Chair of the Parole Board that the Government should examine this issue in depth, covering, for example, the threshold for recalls, the use of Executive release, and the role of the Parole Board. The Government should discuss with local government how to ensure an adequate supply of approved premises that does not over burden specific local authorities. Emergency recalls should only be used as a last resort. Probation staff should be encouraged and supported to use alternative measures to emergency recall, such as adjusted reporting requirements, curfews and use of electronic tags. (Paragraph 120)

13. The Parole Board should have a greater role in decision-making around recalls. All IPP prisoners who have been recalled, not having received a new custodial sentence for committing a further offence, should have the right to an oral parole board hearing within two months of their request. The probation service should have to attend to explain their recall decision. Furthermore, all recalled IPP prisoners should be entitled to annual reviews by the Parole Board to consider whether they are fit for re-release. (Paragraph 121)

14. As set out earlier in this Report, the recall of IPP sentenced individuals is a growing problem. IPP prisoners face particular challenges with resettlement, and careful consideration must therefore be given as to how they are prepared for their release and subsequently supported in the community. We agree with the Prison Reform Trust that efforts to successfully reintegrate IPP prison leavers into society must match those efforts being made to help them to achieve release. (Paragraph 128)

15. We welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring that all prison leavers leave prison with the basics, such as ID and a bank account, and ask that updates on this programme of work be provided to us. We would also welcome progress updates on the introduction of Resettlement Passports. As the passports are developed, we recommend that the MoJ works with stakeholders to give particular consideration as to how they can be used to meet the needs of IPP prisoners, including how resources such as psychologists can be most usefully deployed. In its response to this Report, the MoJ should also set out how IPP prisoners are prepared for their release, including the use of ROTL and the resettlement support and services that are available to prisoners who do not have a release date. (Paragraph 129)


16. Our Report has set out various steps the Government needs to take to help address the IPP problem. But it is clear to us that, while these measures are necessary, they will not be sufficient on their own to deal with the problems that have been identified in the way the IPP sentence continues to operate and is likely to operate in the coming years. The sentence is irredeemably flawed. (Paragraph 150)

17. As Lord Thomas noted in R v Roberts: “It was Parliament which legislated to establish a regime of sentences of IPP in terms which the courts have faithfully and properly applied. It must, in our democracy and in accordance with the rule of law, be for Parliament to provide a correction for the outcome if it so wishes”. We agree. In our view, a comprehensive and adequate solution to the IPP problem can only be achieved by primary legislation that deals retrospectively with the continued operation of the sentence and that allows a resentencing exercise to be undertaken. Paragraph 151)

18. Our primary recommendation is that the Government brings forward legislation to enable a resentencing exercise in relation to all IPP sentenced individuals (except for those who have successfully had their licence terminated). This is the only way to address the unique injustice caused by the IPP sentence and its subsequent administration, and to restore proportionality to the original sentences that were given. (Paragraph 152)

19. Concerns about available community resource for released offenders are valid and need to be taken into consideration. However, the lack of such resource is not a suitable reason for keeping people imprisoned indefinitely. We reiterate the words of our predecessor Committee:

as a matter of policy and common sense rather than law, it is wholly indefensible to incarcerate prisoners of any category beyond the expiry of their tariff or their eligibility for release on licence simply because of a lack of resources on the part of HM Prison Service or the Parole Board. (Paragraph 153)

20. We have not sought to set out the terms of the proposed legislation to enable the resentencing exercise, which will ultimately be for Parliament to consider. We do, however, recommend that it should comply with the key principles that we set out below. We also appreciate that establishing a resentencing exercise will be administratively complex. Accordingly, we recommend that the Government set up a time-limited small expert committee to advise on the practical implementation of the resentencing exercise in conjunction with the senior judiciary. (Paragraph 154)

21. In establishing how to undertake a resentencing exercise of IPP prisoners and what legislation would be needed, it will be important to keep in mind the following three key principles: (Paragraph 175)

a) Balancing protection of the public with justice for the individual offender: A resentencing exercise must strike a balance between protecting the public from the risk of IPP prisoners committing serious further offences if released and securing justice for individual offenders. To achieve that balance, it must be accompanied by sufficient resources to provide released IPP offenders with the support they need—including mental health support—to reintegrate into society. It must also avoid a one-size-fits-all approach and should prioritise the offenders most adversely affected by the sentence: those who were sentenced in the early years of the sentence, prior to the ‘seriousness threshold’ changes in 2008. Any resentencing exercise should also ensure that current sentencing practices designed to ensure protection of the public from serious violent and sexual offenders, such as the way Extended Determinate Sentences are applied and supported, serve as a model in relation to resentenced IPP offenders.

b) The independence of the judiciary: We agree with Lord Thomas that undertaking a resentencing exercise would not interfere with the judicial independence of sentencing. Indeed, it was the decision to curtail the usual discretion of judges to determine the most appropriate sentence for each offender that led to the initial proliferation of the IPP sentence. It would be important, therefore, for a resentencing exercise not to repeat that mistake. In resentencing IPP prisoners the judiciary must be able to make an independent and fair assessment of the individual circumstances of each case and have the discretion to determine an appropriate sentence.

c) Measures to prevent retrospectively increasing the sentence: Any resentencing exercise must be constrained by the general principle, derived from common law and natural justice and set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, that a person should not be subjected to a heavier penalty than that which applied when they committed the offence. A resentencing exercise must avoid imposing any new sentence that puts an offender at a disadvantage compared to their existing IPP sentence, including, where necessary, maintaining the opportunity for release from which IPP offenders currently benefit.

22. We do not underestimate the complexity of undertaking a large-scale resentencing exercise for IPP prisoners. It would require careful thought, significant planning, and sufficient resource. However, the potential difficulties do not justify failing to grasp the nettle. All three branches of the state—the Government, Parliament, and the judiciary—must now rise to the challenge. (Paragraph 176)

Wednesday 28 September 2022

A Disgrace That Needs Sorting

An important report published today on the scandal that IPP sentences have become. Summary here:- 

Justice Committee finds IPP sentences “irredeemably flawed” and calls for comprehensive re-sentencing programme

The Justice Committee has called on the Government to re-sentence all prisoners subject to IPP sentences. In a report published today, the Committee finds that the current regime for managing IPP prisoners is inadequate in supporting their specific needs and calls for swift improvement in the quality of support they are given.

IPP sentences were introduced to prevent serious offenders being released when still a danger to the public. Despite being scrapped in 2012, nearly 3,000 people remain in prison having been given an IPP sentence. In some cases, individuals have been imprisoned a decade beyond the tariff for their original sentence which could be as low as two years or less.

Under the IPP sentencing system, release is based on successful rehabilitation and prisoners no longer being deemed a risk to the general public. However, the Committee has found that inadequate provision of support services inside and outside of prison has led to a ‘recall merry-go-round’, with almost half of prisoners currently serving an IPP sentence having been released previously.

The Committee finds that IPP sentences cause acute harm to those subject to them, with the prospect of serving a sentence without an end date causing higher levels of self-harm as well as a lack of trust in the system that is meant to rehabilitate them.

The report calls for all prisoners currently serving IPP sentences to be re-sentenced, with an independent panel appointed to advise on the practical implementation of what is likely to be a complex task. It further calls for the current time period after which prisoners can be considered for the termination of their licence following release to be halved, from ten years to five.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill said:

“IPP sentences were abolished a decade ago but little has been done to deal with the long-term consequences on those subject to them. They are currently being failed in a prison system that has left them behind, with inadequate support for the specific challenges caused by the very way they have been convicted and sentenced. Successive Secretaries of State have accepted that change needs to happen but little has been done. The decision must be made once and for all to end the legacy of IPP sentences and come up with a solution that is proportionate to offenders while protecting the public.

We appreciate that establishing a resentencing exercise will be administratively complex. That is why we have called for time-limited small expert committee to advise on the practical implementation of the resentencing exercise in conjunction with the senior judiciary.

There must also be adequate support systems put in place to ensure prisoners are prepared for their release and given the right support to reintegrate into the community.

We do not underestimate the complexity of this undertaking, but after a decade of inertia the status quo cannot be allowed to continue.”

IPP Overview

Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences were introduced in 2005 for serious offenders who were deemed to pose an ongoing risk to public safety but did not merit a life sentence. In practice, anyone convicted of any one of 96 serious violent or sexual offences who had also a previous conviction from one of a list of 153 specified offences was liable to an IPP sentence meaning that they could be imprisoned indefinitely beyond their minimum jail tariff.

IPP sentences were abolished in 2012, however there are still 2,926 people imprisoned under IPP sentences, including 1,434 that were recalled to custody having been released. 608 have been in jail for over decade beyond their original tariff, including 188 who were originally imprisoned for two years or less.

IPP prisoners are subject to acute challenges. The psychological impact of an indefinite sentence leads to feelings of hopelessness and despair, resulting in higher levels of self-harm and suicide in the IPP population. Prisoners also feel distrust towards the people and services necessary to support rehabilitation and secure their release.

Current support for IPP prisoners

The Committee is concerned by the lack of impact of the Government’s current action plan for dealing with the unique challenges faced by IPP prisoners. It finds the IPP Action Plan lacks clear strategic priorities and ownership to ensure they are delivered. It calls for a new action plan to be developed to provide greater detail on how IPP prisoners are to be managed and supported, setting out timeframes for delivery and performance measures to ensure standards are met.

At present, provision of offender behaviour programmes and interventions, designed to change attitudes and behaviours that can lead to reoffending, is poor. There is also concern that they are failing to deliver the outcomes they claim and there is a lack of transparency over how these programmes are evaluated. Given the central role successful completion of these programmes plays in the Prison Service and Parole Board assessment of prisoner risk level it is vital that they are accessible and effective.

The Committee calls on the Ministry of Justice to work with the Prison Service to ensure that there are sufficient places on courses to ensure access for all who need them. They should also publish what work has been done to assess the suitability of current rehabilitation pathways, and set out how they plan to improve delivery where inadequate outcomes have been found.

Release and recall

There are concerns that resource issues in the Probation Service and the Parole Board are leading to frequent delays, high staff turnover and inadequate training for board members. There can also be a lack of clarity and uncertainty around next steps following a negative parole decision. The Committee calls on the Parole Board to ensure that people serving IPP sentences are prioritised and only fully trained and experienced board members involved in their cases.

At present, once an IPP prisoner is released they will be subject to licence conditions and risk returning to prison if any of these conditions are breached. The licence term for IPP prisoners is in place for life, but can be terminated at 10 years. It can act as a barrier to the rehabilitation of offenders and be detrimental to their mental health. The length of the licence period may also be disproportionate to the offence for which they were convicted. The Committee welcomes the introduction of an automatic referral for the licence period to be terminated but additionally calls for the qualifying licence period to be halved from 10 years to 5 years.

According to most recent figures, 1,434 of 2,926 current IPP prisoners have been recalled to custody following a release. The Committee finds that much greater priority needs to be given to ending the return of IPP prisoners to jail and ensuring that they are able to live productive lives once they are initially released.

The Government should examine why recalls are taking place and establish a framework that ensures recalls are only used as a last resort. Probation staff should be encouraged to use alternative measures as much as possible, including adjusted reporting requirement, curfews or electronic tags.

Resentencing IPP prisoners

While it is clear that current processes for managing IPP prisoners are inadequate and need to be improved, on their own, the changes the Committee has recommended will not be sufficient to deal with the fundamental problems caused by IPP sentences. The Committee finds that IPP sentences are irredeemably flawed. It calls on the Government to bring forward primary legislation that deals retrospectively with the continued operation of the sentence and initiates a resentencing exercise for all individuals currently subject to them, both in prison and released on licence (except for those who have successfully had their licence terminated).

This will be a difficult, complex exercise and will require care to get right. The Committee recommends that a time-limited small expert committee be established, in conjunction with the senior judiciary, to advise on the practical implementation of the resentencing exercise.

The Committee recognises that resolving the IPP problem will not be easy. It recommends that the approach taken by Government and Parliament should be guided by three key principles. First, it must balance ensuring protection of the public from the risk of further serious offences being committed against ensuring justice for the individual offender. This will require adequate resourcing to be put in place to support offenders’ reintegration into the community. Any measures designed to protect the public from violent or sexual offenders should also follow current sentencing models.

Second, the independence of the judiciary must also be maintained during the resentencing process. Judges must be able to make a fair and independent assessment of the individual circumstances of each case and have discretion to determine an appropriate sentence. Finally, any resentencing exercise must be constrained by the general principle that a person should not be subjected to a heavier penalty than that which applied when they committed the offence.

Saturday 24 September 2022

Up Yours!

I see the Victim Commissioner has had enough and plainly stated what we all know to be true:- 
"It is no exaggeration to say that the criminal justice system is in chaos."
The Rt Hon Brandon Lewis CBE MP
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

23 September 2022

Dear Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice,

The Victims’ Commissioner is the pre-eminent independent voice for victims. The role is to champion the interests of victims at the highest levels, to influence policy, legislation and practice on the ground. It is a unique and unrivalled office that delivers real and lasting change for victims of crime and I am immensely proud of the achievements secured under my tenure.

As you know, my first term as Commissioner was to end this June. In February, your predecessor informed me that he intended to open the post to competition. I was strongly encouraged by him, in public and in private, to apply. This was a perplexing duality: I was not to be reappointed (as my predecessor was), but I was at the same time actively encouraged to apply. Nonetheless, as suggested, I applied in good faith.

At the request of the former Lord Chancellor, I also extended my term by one month. At the time, the long-promised Victims’ Bill was finally emerging and in need of much improvement. My office had carried out a dozen victims’ roundtables and sent in abundant recommendations to officials but little of that work was reflected in the Bill. It was therefore vitally important to me that the Victims’ Commissioner make representations to the Justice Committee and I was happy to extend for this reason.

An important part of my role is access to ministers on behalf of the people I represent and serve. Prior to this year, we have made progress for victims largely through the responsive attitude of previous Secretaries of State. It was notable that the former Lord Chancellor had not met with me once since February. The lack of engagement from the top at a time of great upheaval for victims reflected poorly on the Ministry of Justice’s priorities and the government’s approach.

Early in July, I was phoned by officials and brusquely informed that there would be no appointment from the recruitment process after all. Subsequently, I sought and received assurances from the Ministry of Justice that I had in fact been an appointable candidate. Nevertheless, the recruitment exercise was still to be aborted and rerun. Months of additional uncertainty were heaped on an already disrupted and destabilised office and my excellent staff. Once more I was urged to apply. Once more I was asked to extend my term – this time until the end of the year. With the Victims’ Bill still in draft, I made arrangements as best as I could to stay until at least 30 September and to consider any further extension in due course.

Asking me to re-apply given that two opportunities to re-appoint me have already passed and my office is no longer given much access to ministers seems more a ploy to keep me in place as a nominal post-holder in the short-term than a genuine invitation. Coupled with this, the Victims’ Bill remains inadequate and the ‘British Bill of Rights’ so severely threatens victims’ human rights that it undermines what little progress the Victims’ Bill is set to bring. I am told the Bill of Rights is set to return in some form and that its withdrawal was only temporary.

Further, little has been done to effectively tackle the enormous and catastrophic backlog of cases, particularly in the Crown Court where the most serious crimes are tried. This has exposed victims of these crimes to intolerable delay, anguish and uncertainty. It is no exaggeration to say that the criminal justice system is in chaos.

This downgrading of victims’ interests in the government’s priorities, along with the side-lining of the Victims’ Commissioner’s office and the curious recruitment process make clear to me that there is nothing to be gained for victims by my staying in post beyond the current extension. As such, my term will end on 30 September.

I want to underline how significant this role is in driving forward much-needed change for victims. As Victims’ Commissioner, I have shone a spotlight on the dire state of rape investigations and prosecutions. I secured new privacy safeguards against intrusive and excessive requests for personal mobile phone data in rape investigations. I successfully campaigned for rape victims to pre-record their evidence and cross-examination, sparing them years of anguish awaiting their day in court. I continue to push for increased protections restricting the disclosure of victim therapy notes and third-party victim data. And I have maintained pressure on agencies to increase their shamefully low charging rates. I urge you to reaffirm the government’s commitment to the ambitions of the rape review to drive charging rates back to 2016 levels by the end of this Parliament.

I have consistently advocated for the victims’ sector at the highest levels, most notably ensuring emergency funds were directed to support services straining under the extraordinary pressures of the pandemic. Furthermore, I have spearheaded important research in much-neglected areas such as fraud, online abuse, and the rights of families bereaved from homicide abroad. This research has instigated much needed change. The Victims’ Bill must build on this and afford my successor the authority to make recommendations and compel relevant authorities to respond.

It has been an honour to represent victims’ interests during a period of immense and unprecedented challenges, most notably COVID-19. While the pandemic is abating, the criminal justice system has only sunk deeper into crisis. A strong, independent Victims’ Commissioner has never been more important. The role must not be allowed to lie dormant like the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

I am grateful to the former Secretary of State, David Gauke, and Prime Minister, Theresa May MP, for appointing me to this role. I pay tribute to the professionalism and dedication of officials and of the victims’ sector who work tirelessly to improve the position of victims. And I pay thanks to those Justice Secretaries and multiple Victims’ Ministers who have worked in good faith with me during my tenure.

My contract ends on 30 September. I seek no further renewal and will leave my post on that date.

Yours sincerely,

Dame Vera Baird KC
Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales

Thursday 8 September 2022

Crisis - What Crisis?

So, here we have Brandon Lewis, the new Justice Secretary, having a laugh and joke at Petty France yesterday:- 

"I look forward to working with @trussliz and colleagues across Government on the many pressing issues we face. I will work tirelessly to protect the public from serious offenders, improve the safety of our prisons, reduce reoffending and deliver swift access to justice for all."

"Great to speak to staff @MoJGovUK this afternoon to set out my aims to cut crime and make the public safer, better support victims and boost the economy through the country's great legal services."

The Secret Barrister Tweeting in response:-

"A little surprised that your aims don’t include fixing the crisis in the criminal justice system. Or making it fairer for all - victims, witnesses and defendants. Or upholding the rule of law. Or defending judicial independence in the face of increasing executive interference…"

Note there has been no mention of probation at all. 

It might be all smiles at MoJ HQ but he and 'strong white' Romero are presiding over an increasingly dysfunctional department. There's the failing Court IT system recently featured on BBC Radio 4 File on 4, the Barristers strike and massive probation service staffing problem.

I was recently taken to task for suggesting that the repeated adverts for staff being put on Twitter by Regional Heads signalled an air of desperation about them - 'it was only a natural consequence of the MoJ agreeing to fund more staff' sort of response. So, thanks go to the reader for forwarding the following which, in addition to sounding like things are indeed desperate, has that distinctly prison command and control air about it:-

Detached Duty Opportunity - For PSO Grade staff in Lancashire, Cumbria and Cheshire (Excluding Merseyside and those scheduled to begin PQiP in September)

In response to an urgent and critical staffing position in the London Probation Region, we are seeking further volunteers at PSO grade from the above area only (excluding those PSO's in the September PQiP intake) to be temporarily re-deployed on detached duty. Thankyou to the volunteers we've already had from Merseyside area. 

The placement initially will be for 4 months and will be reviewed within that time. A non-consolidated but pensionable Detached Duty (DD) Scheme lump sum subject to tax deductions, will be paid to staff following completion of the agreed DD deployment as below

  • 4 weeks continuous = £500
  • 8 weeks continuous = £1,200
  • 12 weeks continuous = £2,000 
DD staff will be expected to stay overnight an agreed hotel near to the DD site which will be paid for. Travel, overnight or daily subsistence allowance will also be provided. All Detached Duty Scheme lump sum payments reflect full time 37 hours per week working. Amounts for part time staff will calculated pro rata. Volunteers will be expected to work for a minimum 3 days a week in London.

If you would like to register your interest please e-mail your completed application form to xxxxxxxxxx by 5pm on Wednesday 7th September 2022. Manager's and Heads should offer their views about whether they would be able to support the application and the final decisions relating to which staff we are able to release will be made at the Regional Board on Thursday 9th September 2022. Staff will be prepared to move quickly as the need is pressing.   

Wednesday 7 September 2022

Up For The Challenge?

Yesterday, in an ominous presage of things to come, the heavens opened and a new even darker chapter began. Undoubtedly the defenestration of Priti Patel and Dominic Raab is good news, whilst the arrival of Brandon Lewis as Justice Secretary must surely be cause for hope?

As we wait to find out, I thought I'd mention that viewing figures for the blog are still high averaging 2,000 a day and the post about the pay offer has been viewed nearly 3,000 times. Along with pay, it's clear there's widespread concern regarding the future of probation both as a distinct enterprise and as to its ethical basis. This is heartening for anyone who 'gets it',  cares for its survival and in particular seeks to revisit our famous mantra of 'advise, assist and befriend'.

In the course of this evolving discussion I'm always intrigued by historical perspectives, one being an editorial in the British Journal of Community Justice by Prof Paul Senior and as probation marked its centenary in 2007. I hadn't seen this before and I think it's worth reflecting on as part of a continuing discourse:-   


The history of the probation service often reads like a continuous roller coaster moving with the changing winds of political demands, research findings and/or policy innovation. 

It has rarely stood still and this year, one hundred years on from its inception as an ‘official’ service in the 1907 Probation of Offenders Act its capacity to adapt and survive may be under terminal threat at least in England and Wales. At a time when the concept of probation is impacting positively on penal reform in such diverse areas as Eastern Europe, South America and many other jurisdictions the changes being fashioned by the government's agenda for offender management and in particular its unbending desire for contestability processes to govern service delivery options might sound the death knell for probation as we know it. 

The National Probation Directorate only created in 2001 to run the then new national service - seeking to bring coordination and centralisation to the previous diversity of 50 + individual services - is to go out of existence. The creation of Probation Trusts with new governance arrangements could spell the end of the Probation Boards and the ending of the influence of the Probation Boards Association which, alongside Napo, has been crucial to probation’s survival in recent years. Does this matter to community justice? Has probation lost its direction and maybe its right to oversee community provision for offenders and to support resettlement processes? The answers may be partially located in the past, but also in the space the present uncertainties create and, maybe, there is a future still to grasp. 

Whatever else you level at probation over the past century it has been an organisation whose capacity for innovation and inventiveness, indeed re-inventiveness, has never dimmed. Often attracting practitioners of singular commitment and creativity, if within a maelstrom of philosophical differences, it has never stood still in trying to respond to the seemingly intractable problems people in trouble with the criminal justice system face. In 1978 David Haxby amongst others posed the question of what kind of agency probation might become. Could it hold on to its community orientation, would it become more driven by the needs of the court or would it transform itself into an agency of community control. This ‘care/control’ dilemma was seemingly always regarded as a driving feature of probation practice, though its interpretation and execution continually shifted as new ideas, approaches and values impacted upon its practical application. 

The control and enforcement perspective gathered political weight in the last two decades of the 20th century alongside a growing recognition of the role of victims. Probation practice retreated to the office, developed stylised programmatic responses using cognitive behavioural techniques, governed by risk assessment procedures which sometimes seemed to be followed to justify actions post-hoc rather than as a pragmatic response to need. Outside agencies, mainly, initially, from the voluntary and community sector, were engaged ever more readily to undertake the more community-oriented aspects of traditional practice and probation managers seemed to buckle under any demand to change their practices as government control under a penal populist bandwagon became more and more insistent. Indeed what is remarkable amidst all this is that probation, at least in terms of audit, seemed to reach most of the targets the Home Office has set. Yet this has not dimmed the political mission to make further changes. 

What conclusions can be drawn about this recent history? Has probation failed to be brave and should it have shown a more resistant attitude to the demands of Blairite modernity much as the police have attempted to do? Or is it its comparatively weak structural position which would always make resistance ineffective? Has it lost its influential parliamentary friends which protected it until the 1980s and has it, as a viable organisational structure, simply had its day? These are contested questions which in this year, the centenary of probation, we must explore. We need to draw once more on that spirit of creativity and innovation to continue to find a meaningful role into the next century. This means looking back to learn from some of the successes of our past history whilst shaping a modern probation service which can be a relevant and vibrant part of the criminal justice system. 

A consistent message from research is that the services which both support and rehabilitate and supervise and control offenders are essential and complementary elements to both a public protection, community safety, rehabilitation and restorative agenda. If probation did not exist we would have to re-invent the services. Our next issue will be focussed on a Century of Probation and you can still contribute. Let’s take this opportunity to grasp the place back for probation in a community justice system. Are you up for the challenge?

Professor Paul Senior, Director, Hallam Centre for Community Justice, Sheffield Hallam University

Tuesday 6 September 2022

What Do Others Think?

We've heard from Napo, Probation Institute, HM Chief Inspector and Russell Webster, but what about other significant criminal justice stakeholders and agencies? What are their thoughts regarding the prison takeover of probation by the prison service? 

The Howard League has a long history of being extremely helpful to the probation cause and I notice they are currently advertising for a 'policy manager'. Unless I've missed something, it seems we have to go back to 2019 and this from Frances Crook the former CEO for their view:-    

Principles for Probation

I attended a meeting today on how to sort out probation. We agreed that it was under the ‘Chatham House Rule’, which means I can talk about what we talked about but I will not identify who was there or who said what. All I will say is that the meeting included some representatives from the professions and users in the system and the group will carry on working.

We tried to bring together some overriding principles that should govern any future reform of community justice. The Howard League has already drawn up a blueprint of ideas that includes principles and suggests a structure, and we submitted this to the Ministry of Justice consultation.

These are some of the principles that struck me as things we should agree:
  • Probation should be reunited into one whole service. The split created by Chris Grayling has been disastrous on every level and will never work. Community sentences must have a voice in court if they are to merit confidence and private companies cannot do this because of the inherent conflict of interest.
  • Probation should be separate to prisons. Some 200,000 people are sentenced to a community intervention each year and the service that manages them should have integrity and independence. Whilst the reintegration-from-prison function of probation is also critical, it should be not subsumed into the prison system but should be independent from it.
  • Probation should not be a growth industry. Community supervision should be targeted and focused on only those who really need it.
  • Probation should be linked to the services that support desistance. It is having somewhere to live, something to do all day and social interaction that turns lives round. Links with local authorities, voluntary groups, employers and health services are the most important relationships.
  • Probation must be professional. No public service can be a profession if it is dancing to the tune of the overriding profit motive inherent in private companies.
  • Probation must be coterminous with local services. Links with local authorities, voluntary groups, employers and health services are the most important relationships.
  • Probation should be reconstructed to bring back community payback. Unpaid work was one of the most shambolic parts of the so-called service delivered by Working Links before it went bust. Community payback must be integrated into a public service because that is where the essential relationships with voluntary and faith groups, which provide the work opportunities, sit.
I also believe that punishment should not be party political and so the delivery of sentences must not be accountable to local politicians. Of course, community services must be engaged with local people. For example, in South Wales sheep stealing is a problem and it might be that community payback could respond to that.

Ministers are thinking about what to do next. Something has to change as probation is not working and that is a disaster for victims and communities, and it is feeding the prison population. I hope they are listening to our sensible and workable suggestions.

Frances Crook


Somewhat surprisingly, I notice that the recent report on the Criminal Justice System by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies doesn't mention probation at all. Some mistake surely?

Monday 5 September 2022

Napo AGM Motions 2022

It's that time of year when Napo members have the chance to ballot on what they feel are the priorities for debate at the forthcoming AGM in Eastbourne. Members have until 29th September to vote.  As usual, I've picked out what particularly caught my eye, but of course what's possibly of much greater interest is what's missing. 

The traditional long lead times and bureaucratic machinations that produce the motions for AGM are seemingly not able to respond to recent developments such as the Parole changes or even the existential threat to probation itself from the 'One HMPPS' plan and prison service takeover. Motion 13 from Napo Cymru comes closest and there is always the possibility of an Emergency Motion seeing the light of day. But the cynical or even just bemused might be forgiven for wondering if all the hot air and effort amounts to much, especially if reminded of this motion, carried at Cardiff in 2019:-

CAMPAIGNING COMMITTEE MOTION: The Future of the Probation Service

It was proposed by Chris Hignett and seconded by Mike Guilfoyle, that:-

“Having considered the government's proposals for a future probation service, as set out in "The proposed future model of probation - a draft operating blue print" this Conference calls upon Napo’s Campaigning Committee to make clear that:
  • it believes the future service, while providing national coverage, should cease to be either a part of the Civil Service or the Prison Service and should seek alternative arrangements for its governance based on shared responsibility between local authorities and the Ministry of Justice;
  • it rejects the distinction between "offender management" and "interventions" as designed to promote a market for services that ought to be united and delivered as one, free of market interference;
  • it discards the phrases " protecting the public" and "preventing reoffending", for which the evidence is slender, in favour of "advise, assist and befriend" which should seek to enable desistance from offending;
  • insists the term Probation Court staff designated to Court are appropriately trained to oversee the delivery of the court's supervisory orders and to otherwise assist in the fair delivery of justice.”
As the Chair of London Branch dryly observed last year in their valedictory speech, "I am told that it is one of Napo’s aims to extract the Probation Service from the Civil Service however I hear very little about any effective action being taken to achieve this". Apart from a 'withering' letter sent to Jim Barton last month, (I wonder if it got a reply?) it would seem reasonable to echo this view and there's no evidence to support this assertion at the end:-  "Napo will vigorously campaign in and outside of Parliament to achieve the aims outlined above." Just the usual bluster?

Anyway, here's what particularly caught my eye:-

2. Replace the Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR) 

This conference supports the need to revoke the Rehabilitation Activities Requirement ( RAR) currently part of a Community/ Suspended Sentence Order and reinstate the two requirements which it replaced in 2015: the Supervision Requirement and the Activity Requirement. Such a step would necessitate legislative change. In light of the unification of the probation service , we believe such an important legislative change would be opportune and once again enhance the supervisory role of the case manager which is central to effective probation practice. Currently many Sentencers view the RAR as bewilderingly vague, particularly on levels of contact and content of activities, and retain concerns that this requirement is being unevenly implemented and enforced, resulting in a loss of judicial confidence. 

We therefore call upon Campaigning and Professional Networks to: 
  • campaign for this legislative change, by liaising with the Magistrates Association, the judiciary and the MoJ, 
  • draft an action plan of how this might be supported by practitioners and enacted in a timely manner. 
Supervision had been the foundation of probation practice for more than a century. Now is the time to act to restore its evidence based centrality in a reunified service whilst ensuring it is properly resourced and enabled. 

Proposer: Mike Guilfoyle (London Branch) 
Seconder: Chris Hignett (London Branch)

6. Time for a reality check on staffing and work loads 

This AGM is concerned at the Probation Service’s failure to retain and recruit staff who reflect the community we work in. It is time to assess how increasing workloads with other factors have led to a depletion of staff, including those seeking to leave through early retirement and those struggling to work within the around supporting a shrinking frontline work force or attract staff able and willing to see through PQiP and stay. 

This AGM instructs the Officers and Officials to investigate the reality behind this situation and seek to work with HMPPS on formulating a realistic solution. 

That it commissions a joint survey to establish the age profile of the workforce and seek other answers about the morale and other factors that influence the resilience of staff. One that seeks answers about how valued they view their role and what would encourage them to remain. 

It is time to explode some myths including how individuals consider their contribution accords with their grade, gender, sexuality, and racial identity. That this leads to a service where staff regardless of age or length of service feel welcome and valued. 

Proposer: Keith Stokeld, Staffordshire West Midlands Branch 
Seconder: Ralph Coldrick, Staffordshire West Midlands Branch

10. Stop the Rot: Professionalism: (Probation) 

This AGM notes yet another professional skill/practice has been removed from probation officer roles with the recent changes to the Parole and Review of Re-release processes. 

This AGM believes that changes to probation officer roles and responsibilities such as those brought by OMIC, and the move to more ‘on the day’ reports by PSOs are being done by the ‘back door’ to de-skill and downgrade our roles and provide ‘justification’ for poor pay. 

This AGM further believes we need to fight for our professional integrity and our professional status before we lose it completely and calls on national Napo to: 
  • work with other Criminal Justice partners and unions to maintain our professional standards in Courts, 
  • fight the changes to the Parole process and fight to reinstate our ability to make recommendations, 
  • support staff involved in open parole hearings, 
  • continue to fight OMIC especially the line management of probation staff by prisons, 
  • campaign to take us out of the Civil Service in order to regain our independent professional status. 
Proposer: London Branch

12. Support for the General Secretary 

This conference recognises the great contribution that our General Secretary makes to promoting our union and defending our members. His strengths in negotiation and effective communication are recognised. This conference is of the view that the General Secretary should focus on his strengths and not spend time completing administrative tasks. We therefore call on the Officers’ group to ensure that the General Secretary has access to sufficient administrative support to allow him to concentrate on his strengths. 

Proposer: Family Court Section

13. HMPPS Probation Model Irredeemably Flawed 

The consistently poor HMIP inspection reports tell a sorry tale, but the Inspector falls short in failing to say what everybody knows: that the HMPPS governed Probation Service is a model that is “Irredeemably flawed”. It is, after all, one half of the post-TR model that was assessed by the then chief inspector as irredeemably flawed. 

Napo will redouble our demands for Probation to be taken out of the civil service, and unshackled from the Prison Service. Napo members will write to their MPs making this position clear. The NEC will draft a suggested briefing note and letter, and Napo will engage in a press and communications exercise, responding to each of the inevitable future “poor” and “needs improvement” inspection report making this position clear. 

Proposer: Napo Cymru

23. Initial Induction Appointment Targets 

In July 2022 we were informed that the target for initial induction appointments has moved back from 10 days to 5 days. This is at a time when offices are not always fully staffed, and it applies to full and part-time staff alike. 

The inflexibility of the target takes no account of the fact there is very little time to get a letter to the person on probation once sentenced, if they have not been given an appointment at court. It takes no account of the fact that not all people on probation have phones so cannot be texted, nor does it take account of the fact that many officers work part-time. Crucially, the imposition of such a target without flexibility does little to help the morale of workers who are already overworked and underpaid. 

We therefore ask that Napo work with our employer to find a way to engage people on probation as early as possible in their sentence in a flexible way Give us the means to achieve initial induction appointment targets…..better still, scrap the target altogether! 

Proposer: South Yorkshire Branch

24. Qualified then Quit 

The mass recruitment of trainee probation practitioners has been promised to provide a solution for the rapidly increasing workloads and staff shortages. Napo believes that the focus should be on the more important staff retention problem. It is almost too common to hear about newly qualified practitioners searching for other jobs and handing in their notice, only weeks or months after qualifying. The protection and support promised for the first year of their career is grossly overlooked. Many are handed the entire caseloads of retiring practitioners and/or have to work with complexities they have little experience with. Most are left to do all this in an unfamiliar office and without the guidance of a mentor. 

This AGM asks that this be taken up as an issue to protect our newly qualified staff. It asks that policy around protected caseloads and support are reviewed, especially considering what is in place to safeguard new practitioners working in amber and red offices. 

Proposer: The Mercia Branch

25. Rethinking the PQiP 

Napo recognises that a significant proportion of trainee probation practitioners have experienced less than adequate support despite what was advertised when they committed to the programme. PQiPs in some PDUs, especially those in amber or red, outweigh the number of qualified practitioners which often means that they have no allocated mentors to guide and support them. This situation is increasingly worrying in many ways. Trainees are not getting the necessary practical learning that a mentor could provide. They are also much more likely to experience burn-out, feelings of isolation and hopelessness. The academic component of the training is predominantly self-directed studying, despite it being advertised as a taught course. Without mentorships to feel confident in developing their practice, and with very little academic teaching, these trainees are still expected to produce work of the highest practice standard. 

This programme may not be fit for purpose anymore and requires re-structuring in order to offer all PQiPs the same opportunities for learning. This AGM asks that we see a review of the PQiP 15- and 21-month pathways, with special attention paid to how the ever increasing workloads impact on our trainees’ professional development and wellbeing. 

Proposer: The Mercia Branch

26. Value your Experienced Staff 

Probation has a problem. A dire shortage of experienced practitioners, particularly fully qualified Probation Officers, many of whom are retiring early. Napo demands that the employer takes concrete steps to improve the retention of its most experienced staff, for example: 
  • survey all staff over 50 years of age to establish their wants and needs in the workplace, 
  • enable a sessional staff bank where retired practitioners could be hired flexibly and locally. 
Proposer: Napo Cymru

28. Programmes: Target Operating Model; Impact on Staff 

This AGM notes that consultation on the target operating model for programmes is drawing to a close. However, we also note that the proposals could potentially have a negative impact on current programme staff, in particular those that work in the Divisional Sex Offender Units as well as the wider business. The proposals may well lead to all programme staff being put on to Band 3 irrelevant of whether or not they have a probation qualification, extensive experience or deliver programmes for those that commit sexual offences. This AGM also notes that this could lead to large numbers of staff either being redeployed in the service or leaving altogether despite having an enormous amount of experience in this very specialist work and having dedicated many years to this area of business. It also de-professionalises the work programme staff do, could potentially undermine public protection and impact on the wider business. 

We therefore call on Officers, Officials and Professional & Training Network to do the following: 
  • raise awareness amongst members of the wider impact and encourage involvement at engagement events and workshops, 
  • raise our professional concerns with the programmes teams nationally. 
Proposer: Carole Doherty 
Seconder: Ben Cockburn 
On behalf of the Probation and Training Network

29. Next Generation of Programmes 

AGM notes with dismay the proposal that probation will disband the majority of the suite of programmes delivered and move to a one size fits all approach. This will see one programme delivered for all clients in mixed cohorts both in prison and the community. We note that this is being done without any evidence being provided to Napo regarding the effectiveness of this approach. We also note that little or no thought is being given to the risks posed to both clients and staff from such a delivery model. We are deeply concerned that alongside the proposed operating model this is a further de-professionalisation of probation and undermines and under values the hard work our members in programmes do to reduce and manage risk. Such a massive change to how we work is being rushed through due to poor planning on the part of the employer. 

This motion therefore calls for Napo to: 
  • hold regular engagement events with members affected, 
  • remind the employer we are an evidenced led organisation and demand sight of all evidence this model is based on, 
  • if required, reject this proposal in its entirety. 
Proposer: Carole Doherty 
Seconder: Ben Cockburn 
On behalf of the Probation and Training Network

Saturday 3 September 2022

Words or Action?

Looking back, it all seems to have started on Yorkshire Day August 1st when we learned of the 'bread and circuses' planned for 'Probation Day'. Quite rightly this cynical bit of management distraction attracted much scorn and opprobrium from within the ranks and of course we now know it was all part of preparing the ground for the 'insulting' pay offer that finally surfaced. Forget all that bollocks about dressing up in purple and baking fucking cakes, ex prison governor Amy Rees has been very quick to assert her true colours with some threats:-
“If this pay offer is rejected at ballot, we will revert to implementing a single year pay deal in line with the civil service pay remittance guidance for the 22/23 year”. … “we are confident that we have secured a good and fair pay offer for probation service staff”.

The tepid trade union response of 'neutrality' as the ballot opens must be music in the ears of HMPPS and MoJ and appears to have caused much anger amongst staff, well if responses on this blog are anything to go by. And that's an interesting point because I can't help but notice there's only been a muted discussion over on the 'secret' Facebook group. Why is this? Is it because the demographics are different, or is it fear of the MoJ thought police who undoubtedly monitor the site? Anonymity on here is an advantage, but are the demands for industrial action just so much venting of hot air and unlikely to be carried through? 

As we all know, the track record is not good and union membership has been in steady decline and now fragmented across several unions other than Napo. There's often been criticism of Napo leadership on here, but as is often also said, a union is its members and can only reflect their wishes. Having said that, I think many members might expect rather more from their weekly briefing than routine exhortations and the offer of branch 'goodies'. What, no General Secretary's update or Chair's response to imminent probation demise? Recent days have seen stirring stuff from the Probation Institute, Russell Webster and even HMI Probation all in shock and horror of the prison takeover with 'One HMPPS'. 

There's always that worrying feeling of 'going through the motions' with Napo. Yes they issued a statement but it was weeks ago. Surely a campaign is needed for goodness sake because the threat to probation as a distinct identity has never been greater. Now is the time to pile on the pressure with barristers showing the way and now even HMCTS legal advisers. This from the Law Gazette:-  

Magistrates' court staff to strike for nine days this month          

Magistrates’ court staff will begin nine days of strike action later this month over the rollout of HM Courts & Tribunals Service’s Common Platform, which trade union officials say is ‘fundamentally flawed’.

Legal advisers and court associates ‘voted overwhelmingly’ in favour of industrial action, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union announced last month, with 93% of those voting supporting a full strike – though only 61% of the 180 balloted members cast a vote.

The Common Platform – which has managed more than 158,000 criminal cases and is now live in 143 courts, with further rollouts planned up until February – has cost £236m as at the end of March 2021 and HMCTS says it is ‘key to modernising the court system’.

But the platform has been beset by problems since its launch in September 2020 and, according to the PCS, has sent work-related stress and anxiety levels among its members in HMCTS ‘through the roof’.

The union is demanding that no new cases are inputted onto the Common Platform, that HMCTS undertakes a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for the system and assurances that there will be no further job losses arising from the system.

PCS said this month’s strike action is in response to HMCTS having behaved ‘disgracefully’ by failing to approach the union to offer a meeting, ‘continuing to gaslight members’ over the ‘success’ of the rollout of the Common Platform and threatening to refuse to pay members if they did not use the platform.

HMCTS maintains that it has engaged extensively with the union and is committed to continuing discussions over the Common Platform.

The union has now served notice on HMCTS that legal advisers and court associates will strike from 10-18 September. It has also announced that a second group of its members working for HMCTS will be balloted from next week following the decision to ‘continue the national roll-out of the Common Platform after months of inaction by HMCTS to resolve the serious and fundamental concerns raised by PCS’.

A HMCTS spokesperson said: ‘We have been working with staff and unions on the rollout of Common Platform since September 2020 and it has already dealt with over 158,000 criminal cases. The Common Platform is key to modernising the court system, making it more efficient and fit for purpose.’


I'll round this off with what Russell Webster published the other day:-

The End of Probation?

Will the merger of the prison and probation services lead to the loss of probation identity?

A new leadership model

The MoJ has recently announced what it describes as ” a new leadership model” for HMPPS. Two new Director General (DG) posts will be created; DG Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and a DG Operations. The two new DG posts will replace the existing DG Prisons and DG Probation, Wales and Youth posts. This is described as being the first step on “our journey to becoming One HMPPS”. The one HMPPS model is promoted as having three main advantages which:
1. Allows for a “whole sentence” approach to the way we deliver our services, ensuring offender management services are better joined up across the whole of the offender journey; 
2. Empowers decision making at a regional level, enabling our leaders to ensure that the services they offer are tailored to the needs of and improve outcomes for users of our services; and 
3. Supports the sharing of resources, knowledge, information and skills through a new organisational structure that enables better outcomes and provides value for money.

 Probation concerns

Many probation folk have complained about being part of NOMS and HMPPS, feeling that they are the Cinderella part of the organisation with the greater size of and public interest in prisons meaning that probation concerns are always seen as a lower priority. Both the Probation Institute and the National Association of Probation Officers have issued strong statements protesting about the merger.

Both organisations question both the principle of the merger and its timing. In terms of timing, they argue that Probation has undergone too much turbulence over recent years with the decision to split and semi-privatise the service under Transforming Rehabilitation doing much damage to morale and causing many experienced probation officers to leave the service. The reunification of the service is still only 14 months old and very much a work in progress. The probation inspectorate is yet to find a delivery unit providing a good service. The HMPPS merger is seen as yet another poorly thought out and rushed initiative which will have long-standing (and possibly irreversible) impact on the probation service.

In terms of more fundamental opposition to the merger, both organisations point out the very different working cultures, vocational paths and values of the prison and probation service.

Some of the points made include:
  • Probation is a profession with a long-standing requirement for probation officers to be educated to Higher Education Level 6 while there is no equivalent professional qualification for prison officers.
  • Different cultures with the probation service more focused on desistance with the prison service more concerned with a safe prison environment.
  • Different leadership styles with the prison service operating in more of a command and control structure while the probation approach champions practitioner autonomy and individual professional judgment.
Fundamental to the concerns of both organisations is the discomfort that many probation people feel in being part of the civil service under the reunified arrangements. The Probation Institute spells out its concerns:

In our view the Civil Service is a wholly inappropriate location for the Probation Service. Indicators of this inappropriateness include:
  • Ministerial control taking precedence over professional advice (recent decisions concerning recommendations in Parole Reports)
  • Severe constraints on Probation Practitioners from sharing professional concerns in public arena, including publishing
  • Lack of external scrutiny (only the MOJ funded HMIPP Inspectorates currently scrutinise the work of the Probation Service.
Prison and probation services have been trying to implement a “whole sentence” approach for many years with little success despite the obvious benefits of improved “continuity of care” on prison release. I can understand the MoJ’s thinking (although not its rationale) that this would be easier to deliver within an integrated service.

Personally, my main concern is that a merger will destroy the last vestiges of probation being a local service, trying to meet the needs of both local communities and people on probation. The current regional structure is, to me, lacking in any meaning – the probation regions do not marry up with any other relevant public services (police, local authorities etc.) with the exception of the London, Greater Manchester & Wales areas.

One of the original driving forces behind the failed Transforming Rehabilitation experiment was to get probation officers out from in front of their computer screens so they could spend more time with people on supervision. The combination of COVID and the move to a central civil service structure, compounded by persistent under-staffing has resulted in a service which spends a disproportionate amount of its time writing assessments and risk management plans rather than helping people turn round their lives.

There are many dedicated and committed probation staff but neither the current working environment nor the planned merger seem likely to enable them to convert this positive attitude into constructive practice.

Russell Webster

Friday 2 September 2022

Probation Voice Must Continue to be Heard

I wouldn't normally post at this time on a Friday, but such is the level of concern regarding the pay offer that the comment thread has grown too long and getting unmanageable. Of course at exactly the same time as an offer widely felt to be 'insulting', we have an existential threat to probation itself and here we see what the Chief Inspector Justin Russell thinks, published today:-

The ‘voice of the Probation Service’ must continue to be heard

The month of August brought with it the publication of our latest round of local probation service inspection reports, this time in the West Midlands (summarised here within our letter to the regional Probation Service – West Midlands (PDF, 334 kB)) – the fourth probation region we have inspected since unification of the probation service. The results continue to be disappointing. Of the three probation delivery units (PDUs) we inspected, we rated two as ‘Inadequate’ and one as ‘Requires improvement. This means that of the nine PDUs inspected since unification, two thirds have received the lowest possible overall rating of ‘Inadequate’ which is deeply concerning. A more detailed analysis of over 500 individual cases we’ve inspected across these areas, shows that at least 59 per cent are being assessed as insufficient against at least one of our quality standards – with the most common area of weakness continuing to be the assessment and management of risks of harm. In my Speech to the Westminster Legal Policy Forum (PDF, 187 kB) conference on 05 July I set out some of the reasons for this, but widespread staff shortages at all key operational grades and the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on interventions and key services for people on probation are both having an enormous impact on the quality of supervision we are seeing.

Given these unprecedented challenges, a relentless focus on effective practice and strong and visible leadership of the service will be crucial to recovery in the coming years. So, it is essential that the move to a new leadership structure in HMPPS which merges responsibilities for prisons and probation within two Chief Executive Office (CEO) and Director General Operations roles does not threaten this recovery. In the past, I have welcomed the creation of a separate DG Probation role within HMPPS as giving the service the visible and energetic leadership and higher profile it lacked under the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). Whilst it is positive that Amy Rees will be bringing her four years of experience in that role to her new CEO posting, past experience with NOMS is that the day to day operational and political demands of the prison service can all too easily distract focus from the Probation Service and its particular (and very different) needs. I know that strong concerns have been raised about these changes by NAPO and the Probation Institute and it’s important that the voice and interests of the Probation Service continue to get the leadership attention they so desperately need.

Justin Russell
HM Chief Inspector of Probation

Thursday 1 September 2022

Pay Offer 2022

Probation staff have been eagerly awaiting news of the pay offer and as usual it's complicated. This from UNISON:-

UNISON’s Position on the Offer

UNISON would normally provide a recommendation to members as to how to vote in relation to a pay offer. However, on this occasion UNISON’s Probation Service Committee has not been able to arrive at such a recommendation.

The average 3.2% cost of living increase each year obviously falls well short of the current rate of inflation which stands at 12.3% (July 2022). Yes, eligible staff will get their pay progression in addition to their cost of living rises, but staff are expected to progress up their pay band each year in the Probation Service pay system and this should not be confused with an annual cost of living pay rise.

Taking the pros and cons of the offer into account, UNISON’s Committee decided that we should leave it up to individual members to decide for themselves how to vote on the offer. We are therefore taking a totally neutral position on the offer, but can point out the pros and cons of the offer as follows:

  • All pay points (with two exceptions referred to above) in each pay band get a cost-of-living increase in each year of the 3-year offer
  • New headroom is created in pay bands 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 by the creation of a new higher maximum pay point in each of these pay bands in year 3 of the offer. At the end of the three-year period of the offer, the pay points at the top of each of these pay bands will have risen to the following cash values, with the % increase on the cash values also shown:
PB2 £25210 12%
PB3 £31650 12.2%
PB4 £42000 13%
PB5 £46000 12.1%
PB6 £52939 8%
  • The starting salaries of pay bands 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 increase over the period of the offer as a result of the deletion of the lowest pay point in each of these pay bands. At the end of the three-year period of the offer, the starting salaries for these pay bands will be as follows, with the % increase on the current starting salaries also shown:
PB2 £22320 19.2%
PB3 £26475 14.2%
PB4 £35130 16.3%
PB5 £44100 18.7%
PB6 £48305 17.8%

Please note that the % increases shown here are higher than the sum of the average % cost of living increases in the pay points in each pay band, because they are the result of pay points being deleted at the bottom of the pay band, as well as the impact of the cost of living increases.
  • Pay progression will be paid on time in years 2 and 3 of the offer (on 1 April 2023 and 1 April 2024) rather than being delayed each year as a result of the need for Treasury approval
  • Staff at the top of their pay bands at the end of the first year of the offer, will receive a £300 non-consolidated lump sum payment on 1 April 2023, and also 2024 for staff in pay bands A, B, C & D
  • Allowances, such as London Weighting, Prison Supplement, Standby and Geographical Supplements all increase by 3% in each year of the offer
  • London Weighting is extended to all staff who are contracted to work at locations within the boundary of the M25
  • Overlaps between pay bands are removed by the end of the 3-year offer
  • The cost of living rises in the offer, which average 3.2% a year, fall very short of the current rate of inflation which was 12.3% in July 2022 (retail prices index/RPI). The joint union pay claim was for a cost-of-living rise of 3% plus RPI inflation for each year of the award. So, the cost-of-living rises in the pay offer fall way below what is needed for probation pay to keep up with inflation.
  • There is a difference between the cost of living rises on each pay point in each pay band – this is a lottery and a side-effect of the smoothing out of the gaps between the pay points in each pay band.
  • There are some differences in the average cost of living rises between different pay bands over the 3 years of the offer:
4.3% for pay band 5 and pay band A
3.6% for pay band 4
3.2% for pay band 2 and pay band 3
2.4% for pay band 6
  • The cost of living rises in years 2 and 3 of the offer are not paid until 1 October, when they would normally be paid in April. These rises are therefore delayed by 6 months. As a result, staff will only receive half the value of the pay rise in their pockets in the pay year, although the value of the pay points themselves goes up by the full amount.
  • There is no non-consolidated lump sum payment for staff at the top of their pay bands in year 1 of the offer. The unions asked for this, but the Probation Service was not able to fund it.
  • The gap between the top of pay band 3 and the bottom of pay band 4 will widen from 7.1% to 11%. 11% is double the size of gap which will exist between most other pay bands at the end of the three-year offer. Given the similarities in some of the work carried out by PSOs and POs, this widening of the pay gap between the two roles is regrettable. There should be equal gaps between the pay bands, but the Probation Service was not able to increase the top of pay band 3 sufficiently to close the gap in the final offer.
  • Market forces supplements (MFS) are being phased out and are likely to have disappeared for most staff currently in receipt of them by the end of the three-year pay offer. This will very probably see the re-emergence of recruitment and retention problems in the hard to recruit sites where the MFS is currently being paid.
  • There is no increase in car mileage allowances. The cost of motoring has rocketed over the last year. Our pay claim sought to address this by asking the Probation Service to approach Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to increase the 45p/mile fixed profit car mileage allowance that applies across the civil service. At this point no such approach has been made.
  • There is a question over whether the pay offer has been fully equality proofed. As set out above, the Probation Service has on the one hand indicated that the equality impact analysis of the offer is on-going and therefore incomplete, and on the other that it is now confident that the offer has been fully equality proofed. There is a risk that it may subsequently be discovered that the offer has some discriminatory effects.
UNISON has asked the Probation Service to agree to work with us to identify and deal with any such discriminatory effects which might arise from implementation of the three-year offer.