Assisting and advising the sentencing decision process: the pursuit of 'quality' in pre-sentence reports

Cyrus Tata, Nicola Burns, Simon Halliday, Neil Hutton, Fergus McNeill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)
113 Downloads (Pure)


Pre-sentence reports are an increasingly prevalent feature of the sentencing process. Yet, although judges have been surveyed about their general views, we know relatively little about how such reports are read and interpreted by judges considering sentence in specific cases, and, in particular, how these judicial interpretations compare with the intentions of the writers of those same reports. This article summarizes some of the main findings of a four-year qualitative study in Scotland examining: how reports are constructed by report writers; what the writers aim to convey to the sentencing judge; and how those same reports are then interpreted and used in deciding sentence. Policy development has been predicated on the view that higher-quality reports will help to 'sell' community penalties to the principal consumers of such reports (judges). This research suggests that, in the daily use and interpretation of reports, this quality-led policy agenda is defeated by a discourse of judicial 'ownership' of sentencing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)835-855
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Journal of Criminology
Issue number6
Early online date19 Aug 2008
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2008


  • sentencing
  • pre-sentence reports
  • Scotland
  • social enquiry reports
  • pre-sentence investigation
  • community sanctions
  • judicial decision making
  • judicial discretion
  • profession
  • sociology of professions
  • Penal
  • penology
  • criminal Justice
  • criminal justice social workers
  • penal reform
  • penal practice


Dive into the research topics of 'Assisting and advising the sentencing decision process: the pursuit of 'quality' in pre-sentence reports'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this