HL Deb 10 December 1991 vol 533 cc29-30WA
Lord Harris of Greenwich

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What inquiries they propose to institute following the statement by Mr. Justice Steyn at Preston Crown Court on 25th November that 40 community service orders had not been enforced, and that proceedings were not taken for a breach of the orders in 20 cases, and whether any report by the Probation Inspectorate will be placed in the Library of the House.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

From enquiries made of the Lancashire Probation Service, the position appears to be as follows.

In February 1991 allegations were made relating to 39 community service orders where action appeared to have ceased without the hours being completed, and 18 further cases in which breach action had failed to be taken. The allegations—confined to one area of the county—were investigated and a report was made to the Lancashire Probation Committee.

At that time a community service manager linked with the allegations was on sick leave. When he returned on 17th June he was interviewed by the Deputy Chief Probation Officer and suspended from duty forthwith. At a disciplinary hearing of the Lancashire Probation Committee on 24th July the allegations against the community service manager were found to be of a substantial and serious nature and to justify dismissing him. This decision was upheld on appeal to a panel of magistrates from Greater Manchester Probation Committee on 29th October.

The Chief Probation Officer says that a short time before the original allegations were made steps had been taken to review procedures for recording community service work in his service. New procedures resulting from this work came into operation on 1st May.

An Efficiency and Effectiveness Inspection of Lancashire Probation Service by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation in January and February 1991 recommended that the Chief Probation Officer should ensure that there was a full review of the community service scheme in his area in order to attain the national standards on community service (Home Office Circular 18/1989). A copy of that report has been placed in the Library of the House.

The Chief Probation Officer now confirms that all the cases involved in these allegations have been re-examined; the relevant court in each case has been consulted; and that no outstanding action remains in these cases. It appears that it was the service's effort to contact all courts which was responsible for stimulating the statement of Mr. Justice Steyn, although he may have been unaware of the full extent of the remedial steps which had already been taken. The Lancashire Probation Committee has now told him of the action taken.

The Home Office will also draw the case to the attention of Chief Probation Officers so that they may take such steps as necessary to minimise the chance of similar deficiencies arising in their areas' adherence to the national standards. General observance of those standards themselves will continue to be monitored during the regular programme of inspections by HM Inspectorate.