Keeping Up Is Hard to Do:
A Trial Judge’s Reading Blog


In “early 2021, the Council carried out a consultative exercise with sentencers across Scotland, with a view to identifying any gaps or barriers to provision of community-based disposals and to ascertain what might improve judicial confidence in community-based interventions” (at paragraph 4).

The Council summarized its conclusions in the following manner (at paragraphs 14 to 18):

Community-based disposals, in appropriate cases, are commonly viewed by sentencers as providing a greater chance of rehabilitation and, in general terms, as a more cost-effective alternative to imprisonment.7 It is our impression that sentencers feel that the sentencing process is generally well supported by justice social workers, who they understand are often carrying out a difficult task in challenging circumstances. Nevertheless, we believe there are opportunities for improvements and a summary of the key issues we wish to highlight for attention follow.

Sentencers generally feel that they are aware of the programmes and services available and that they can access the necessary information to make appropriate sentencing decisions but not all feel they have a full awareness of what is available.

We consider that judicial awareness could be improved, and the sentencing process might therefore be expedited by: the provision of greater information in Criminal Justice Social Work Reports (CJSWRs) about available local authority and third sector initiatives; enhanced engagement with service providers; and a database of the resources available. We consider that this would be particularly valuable to practitioners and sheriffs who move across jurisdictions, as local variations in available services can affect sentencing options.

There is a perceived need among sentencers for greater consistency in the provision of community-based programmes and services. These should be made available for a wider range of offending and to address a wider range of issues. Sentencers have, for example, observed gaps in unpaid work opportunities for specific categories of person (for example those with mental health difficulties, women and young people) or offending (for example domestic abuse).

The engagement we have carried out suggests that one of the greatest challenges to judicial confidence in community-based disposals concerns limitations of resources to support their management and delivery. A more consistent approach to the development and funding of these disposals to support their more consistent provision, robust management and successful completion would enhance judicial confidence and might be expected to support an increase in the use of community-based disposals through the provision of more sentencing options.