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Annex F Judicial Guidance to Courts on the use of Community Impact Statements for adults

A Community Impact Statement is a document providing information to the court about the impact of offences on the community (including that which the defendant has been convicted of) which may result in an offender being treated more severely because it demonstrates harm to the community caused by the offence.

The court must pass what it judges to be the appropriate sentence having regard to the circumstances of the offence and of the offender. A community impact statement may help a court to place the offence into context, but it remains important to ensure that the court only sentences the defendant for the offence or offences that have been specifically proved.

In the document "Overarching principles: Seriousness" the Sentencing Guidelines Council set out the way in which a court must consider the issue of prevalence.

"F. Prevalence

1.38 The seriousness of an individual case should be judged on its own dimensions of harm and culpability rather than as part of a collective social harm. It is legitimate for the overall approach to sentencing levels for particular offences to be guided by their cumulative effect. However, it would be wrong to further penalise individual offenders by increasing sentence length for committing an individual offence of that type.

1.39 There may be exceptional local circumstances that arise which may lead a court to decide that prevalence should influence sentencing levels. The pivotal issue in such cases will be the harm being caused to the community. It is essential that sentencers both have supporting evidence from an external source (for example the local Criminal Justice Board) to justify claims that a particular crime is prevalent in their area and are satisfied that there is a compelling need to treat the offence more seriously than elsewhere."

It is at the discretion of the Judiciary as to if, and if so to the extent to which, the community impact statement is used. Regard must always be had to any sentencing guidelines.

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Objectives

The community impact statement may be used as a tool to inform the sentencing process in the following ways:

(i) Putting the offences into the context in which they are committed

(ii) Engaging with the offender and encouraging him/her to face up to the consequences of that offending

(iii) In exceptional circumstances , where offending of the type charged is proved to be prevalent, passing a deterrent sentence in accordance with guidance from the Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC). Also, assessing the extent of the harm caused by that sort of offending on the community.

(iv) In consequence, choosing the appropriate sentence

(v) Where relevant, using information from it to inform sentencing pronouncements

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Contents

A Community Impact Statements is likely to include: 

  • details of the impact of the offence and similar offences on the community; 
  • details of any financial impact upon the community; 
  • information drawn from reliable sources relevant to prevalence of that type of offence in the community; 
  • details of any response or reaction of the community to the offence; 
  • the name and signature of the person producing the statement.

Wherever possible the sources of information should be attributed, however it is recognised that there may be reluctance by members of the public to make statements and therefore statements may contain some hearsay evidence. Although hearsay evidence is not subject to the same rules of admissibility as govern a trial, similar care must be paid to the significance to be attached to the material contained within a community impact statement to such extent as it is only based on hearsay.

Format and Preparation

Ideally a community impact statement should be in evidential form and it is anticipated, will generally be prepared by the police. The accused must be served with a copy of the statement prior to the court hearing at which it is proposed the statement will be used. Statements must be capable of challenge by the accused.

Use

Once the court proceedings have reached the sentencing stage after establishing guilt, the legal adviser may state in open court that the community impact statement, if relevant, may be used by the bench to inform their sentencing decision.

Where the content of a community impact statement is challenged by the accused, the prosecution should be invited to call evidence to prove the contents of the statement. Where the contents are not admitted or proved the court must ignore that part of the statement.

Where a community impact statement exists and it is not included in the prosecution papers, or is not referred to by the prosecution, the court may still wish to take it into account during sentence and can ask for the existing community impact statement to be produced. If so, it is anticipated that the court will give both parties an opportunity to address the court on the matter.

Unless the community impact statement proves that the incidence of the type of offence is significantly greater than it is nationally the court cannot pass a harsher sentence on the basis of prevalence. Even where the offence is more common locally, the court should only pass a harsher sentence where there is a compelling need so to do. Similarly, a court cannot reflect the fact that an offence caused harm to the community unless that harm is proved.

Where it is identified that the case may involve a prevalent offence, the legal adviser may specifically inform the bench that the community impact statement may be considered to help inform their sentencing decision. The bench should state in open court if the statement was used.

The court may regard an offence as more serious not because of prevalence of offences of that nature, but because of the harm that offending has had on the community. The fact that an offence has resulted in the loss to the community of an amenity, for example, may be a relevant consideration the court will have regard to when assessing the seriousness of an offence.

Where a court deals with an offender more severely than it would have done because of information contained within a community impact statement, it shall explain to the offender that it has done so, explain the factors that it regarded as making the offence more serious or why it chose to impose a deterrent sentence and state how it dealt with the offence more seriously. These details shall be recorded and made available to the Crown Court in the event of an appeal against sentence.

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