Rhys ab Owen MS believes that issues with pre-sentencing reports, important documents used in criminal courts, are entrenching inequality in the Welsh justice system.

Here he lays out why these reports are so important, the problems they cause, and how we could go about fixing this problem.

What are pre-sentencing reports?

Pre-sentencing reports (PSRs) are documents produced - usually by a person’s probation officer - as reference for use during a sentencing.

They are most often requested by the person’s defence lawyer or the judge, and they usually consist of information about the case, a professional risk assessment, and an analysis of sentencing options available for the perpetrator.

Evidence shows that these reports have been very effective at helping to reduce the amount of time spent in court - thereby cutting costs and helping to deal with the backlog of cases in our courts.

Despite this, the number of requests for them has been slowly decreasing over the years, particularly during the pandemic.

Academic literature seems to imply that this is the result of the UK government’s squeeze on the criminal justice system - underfunding, rushing judgements, and the increasing backlog of cases - and naturally, the people of Wales don’t get a say in this, because justice is currently reserved to Westminster.

PSRs and racial inequality

A 2021 report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation shows that only 58 percent of PSRs in England and Wales produced for BAME individuals were considered “sufficient”.

The implications of this should be fairly clear to anyone who thinks this through.

Those who are sent to court with insufficient reports are far more likely to receive unjustly punitive sentences, and if 42 percent of BAME individuals are not being given adequate reports to rely on, then surely this is both a symptom of and fuel for the wider racial bias that exists within our criminal justice system.

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It’s important not to assume that this is something that occurs only in England - if even one individual has been given too harsh a sentence in Wales as a result of an insufficient report, that’s one too many.

The discriminatory effect of PSRs has been counteracted by the drop in their popularity within courts, as a result of mounting pressure from the UK Government.

However, this still does not excuse the fact that those who are non-white are more likely to receive insufficient and damaging reports in Wales and England, something that can lead to them receiving tougher sentences.

This should not be tolerated.

How to fix the PSR issue

On 14 July I tabled a question to the Welsh Counsel General on this horrendous racial inequality within the application of pre-sentencing reports.

My hope is that he will tell the UK Government that this situation will not be tolerated, and that action must be taken immediately. A question has also been tabled at Westminster by my colleague Liz Saville Roberts MP.

I’m sure, like many of the injustices that the Westminster government tolerate, we will see them ignore this burning issue hidden under the surface of our criminal justice system, and once again refuse to support those who need justice the most.

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This issue, of course, would not have to go through these levels of bureaucracy if Wales had a devolved justice system. This is something I’ve consistently advocated for during my career, and in past articles.

Make no mistake - while PSRs have the capability to be an incredibly useful tool in streamlining our criminal justice system, their use should never be at the expense of ethnic minorities.

The role we play as politicians should be to protect our constituents from injustices like these.

Rhys ab Owen is Plaid Cymru's spokesperson on justice, the Senedd Member for South Wales Central, and a barrister.

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