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Community Impact Statements

; New guidance added 29/10/2019|Legal Guidance

This guidance sets out the approach to be taken in relation to the use of community impact statements.

Prosecutors should also be familiar with:

Headlines:

  • Community impact statements can help criminal justice agencies understand the wider impact of offending and can improve decision making and increase public confidence.
  • A community impact statement should not be used as part of the evidential test when deciding to charge a suspect but they can inform the public interest stage of the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
  • Relevant case law has established that a judge may only take account of the prevalence of an offence if satisfied that:
    • The harm caused in a particular locality is significantly higher than elsewhere,
    • The circumstances can properly be described as exceptional, and
    • It is just and proportionate to increase sentence in the particular case.

Introduction

A community impact statement is a short document illustrating the concerns and priorities of a specific community over a set time period. The statements are compiled and owned by the police and be made in the form of a section 9 witness statement (Criminal Justice Act 1967).

The Ministry of Justice issued guidance on the use, aim, format and purpose of community impact statements which should be read alongside this guidance and can be found at Annex A.

This guidance covers the relevant public interest factors as well as case law relating to community impact statements which prosecutors may find helpful.

Community impact statements can help criminal justice agencies understand the wider impact of hate crime and can improve decision making and increase public confidence. These statements can be useful throughout the criminal justice system but may be particularly useful for the CPS in the following ways:

  • The CPS can request the police to obtain a community impact statement as part of pre-charge advice and action plans.
  • A community impact statement can be useful in considering the public interest stage of the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
  • A community impact statement can be used to determine the appropriate conditions for conditional cautions.
  • On conviction, and before sentence, the CPS should draw the Court’s attention to the community impact statement and the impact of offending on the community.

Community impact statements can take two forms, generic and specific. The MoJ guidance explains the two:

Generic

Generic statements contain information related to a range of offences that have been identified by the community as a local concern, including details of the harm and impact which that type of offence has had on that particular community. The generic statement is to be applied to a case where the offence committed matches the type of offences referred to in the statement. The same generic statement can be attached to numerous cases and the information within them will remain in existence for a set period after which it will be updated.

Specific

Specific statements contain information relating to a specific offence which has been identified by the community as a local concern. The statement will illustrate the impact and harm on the community arising from the specific offence and will be applied to a case that involves the noted offence.

Definition of a community

A community does not just have to be determined by geographic areas. A community can also be defined as a group of people who interact and share certain characteristics, experiences or backgrounds, and/or are located in proximity to each other.

The following are some examples of the types of communities that are likely to be engaged

  • Geographical and physical communities – people living or working close to each other who share the same physical environment and amenities; e.g. villages, estates, neighbourhoods.
  • Communities of identity – people who share particular characteristics connected to their heritage, belief system or physical being that define their day-to-day lives; e.g. ethnic groups, religious groups, people with disabilities, children, older people.
  • Communities of interest – people with an identifiable need or interest which may cross other community ‘boundaries’; e.g. support groups, sporting clubs or associations.

Public Interest

A community impact statement should not be used as part of the evidential test when deciding to charge a suspect.

Assessing the public interest in bringing a prosecution includes consideration of the impact of the offence on the community (para. 4.14.e)

  • The greater the impact of the offending on the community, the more likely it is that a prosecution is required.
  • The prevalence of an offence in a community may cause particular harm to that community, increasing the seriousness of the offending.
  • Community is not restricted to communities defined by location and may relate to a group of people who share certain characteristics, experiences or backgrounds, including an occupational group.
  • Evidence of impact on a community may be obtained by way of a Community Impact Statement. 

Sentencing and prevalence

There is no statutory provision for Community Impact Statements. The presentation of such evidence to a court at sentence is recognised and governed by:

The key theme established by these authorities is that what is relevant and admissible in the sentencing exercise is evidence of “prevalence”.

The CPD states: “a community impact statement may be prepared by the police to make the court aware of particular crime trends in the local area and the impact of these on the local community”. Cases where community impact has properly been taken into account have emphasised an evidential basis for concluding that a crime is more prevalent in that area; otherwise, it is improper to take it into account.

Two examples of this are R v Derek Wicks [2013] EWCA Crim 1414 and R v Liaquat Ali [2018] EWCA Crim 2359:

  • In Wicks, the Court of Appeal upheld the sentence of two years’ imprisonment passed on a cultivator of cannabis because they had statistics showing that this offence was particularly prevalent in South Yorkshire, and so the judge had been entitled to take into account the impact on that community of prevalent cannabis cultivation;
  • In the more recent case of Ali, the judge took into account evidence that Bradford had a high number of road traffic fatalities when sentencing the offender for causing death by dangerous driving. The Court of Appeal held that this was improper and reduced the sentence from seven years and five months’ imprisonment to six years and six months. This demonstrates the importance of precision when providing evidence to a court of prevalence: even though bad driving involving death was clearly more prevalent in Bradford, the fact that the evidence was of road traffic fatalities was not sufficiently linked to the offence charged properly to take it into account.

The clearest guidance on community impact evidence comes from R v Marco Bondzie(Practice Note) [2016] EWCA Crim 552:

  • evidence must be provided to the court by a responsible body or senior police officer,
  • the relevant statements or reports must be made available to the Crown and defence in good time so that meaningful representations could be made in connection with that material
  • even if such material is provided, the judge would only be entitled to treat prevalence as an aggravating factor if satisfied that the level of harm caused in the particular locality was significantly higher than that caused elsewhere
  • the judge would need to be satisfied that the circumstances can be described as exceptional and that it is just and proportionate to increase the sentence for such factors.

In other words, only if the evidence placed before the court demonstrates a level of harm which clearly exceeds the well understood consequences of the offence by a significant margin should courts be prepared to reflect that in sentencing.

Bondzie directs how community impact statements should be approached. In R v Clive Ezeh [2017] EWCA Crim 1766, the Court was troubled by the Judge appearing to take community impact into account without following this guidance; in R v Gary Duncanson [2016] EWCA Crim 1537 and R v Ali Khalid [2017] EWCA Crim 592 the Court reduced sentences imposed where the guidance in Bondzie had not been followed.

Statistical information

A community impact statement must include statistics that demonstrate the prevalence of an offence in a local area. There needs to be comparison data to demonstrate prevalence and this must illustrate that local data on a particular type of crime is greater in number than the national data for the same type of crime. National data can be sought from Research at the Home Office.

The requirement for national data in order to evidence prevalence has been emphasized in cases such as R v Lanham (Stephen) 2008 EWCA Crim 2450 and  R. v Moss (Michael) [2010] EWCA Crim 1097.

Hate Crime

The CPS has produced guidelines on the use of community impact statements in hate crime cases.

Hate crime offences often have a disproportionate impact on the victim because they are being targeted for a personal characteristic, whether it’s their disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity. The fear and lack of safety felt by the victims of hate crime can have a ripple effect on the wider community, undermining peoples’ confidence and security. The use of a community impact statement allows for both the prevalence and the impact of these crimes to be fully understood and taken into account in appropriate hate crime cases.

Both specific and generic community impact statements can be used in hate crime cases. If, for example, a community is being regularly targeted, the police can compile a community impact statement to be used in all instances of these crimes. Equally, if a specific crime sends shock waves around a particular community, a community impact statement can capture the impact of this particular incident.

Annex A

Ministry of Justice Guidance

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