Canadian Criminal Sentencing/Procedure/Pre-Sentence Report

General Principles edit

A Pre-sentence Report is a report that is generated by a probation officer on order of the court after interviewing the accused and collateral sources that is for the benefit of the judge in determining sentence.

The enabling provision that allows the ordering of a report is section 721, which states:

Report by probation officer
721. (1) Subject to regulations made under subsection (2), where an accused, other than an organization, pleads guilty to or is found guilty of an offence, a probation officer shall, if required to do so by a court, prepare and file with the court a report in writing relating to the accused for the purpose of assisting the court in imposing a sentence or in determining whether the accused should be discharged under section 730.
Provincial regulations
(2) The lieutenant governor in council of a province may make regulations respecting the types of offences for which a court may require a report, and respecting the content and form of the report.
Content of report
(3) Unless otherwise specified by the court, the report must, wherever possible, contain information on the following matters:

(a) the offender’s age, maturity, character, behaviour, attitude and willingness to make amends;
(b) subject to subsection 119(2) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the history of previous dispositions under the Young Offenders Act, chapter Y-1 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1985, the history of previous sentences under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and of previous findings of guilt under this Act and any other Act of Parliament;
(c) the history of any alternative measures used to deal with the offender, and the offender’s response to those measures; and
(d) any matter required, by any regulation made under subsection (2), to be included in the report.

(4) The report must also contain information on any other matter required by the court, after hearing argument from the prosecutor and the offender, to be included in the report, subject to any contrary regulation made under subsection (2).
Copy of report
(5) The clerk of the court shall provide a copy of the report, as soon as practicable after filing, to the offender or counsel for the offender, as directed by the court, and to the prosecutor.
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 721; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 203; 1995, c. 22, s. 6; 1999, c. 25, s. 16(Preamble); 2002, c. 1, s. 183; 2003, c. 21, s. 15.


Under section 724(3)(b), where there is a dispute on factual claims within the report, the party relying upon it must prove the fact.

The purpose of a pre-sentence report is to provide a “picture of the accused as a person in society - his background, family, education, employment record, his physical and mental health, his associates and social activities, and his potentialities and motivations.”[1]

The function is not to provide evidence of an offence, give details of a criminal record, or tell the court what sentence to give.[2]

The judge may use the information in the report to assess the character of the accused in order to relate the offence to the accused.[3]

Where a judge lacks full information on the background of the accused, particularly where the jeopardy of the accused is significant a judge should order a pre-sentence report.[4]

Generally, a pre-sentence report should be considered when sentencing a first-time offender.[5]

However, given the general limitations on resources, the judge may want to decline to order a report where there is no specific purpose in ordering one.[6]

  1. R. v. Riley, 1996 CanLII 5615 (NS CA)
  2. R. v. Bartkow (1978), 24 N.S.R. (2d) 518, at para. 10
  3. R. v. Brown, (1985), 31 Man.R. (2d) 268 per Monnin, C.J., at 274
  4. R. v. Pritchett; R. v. Graham (1969), 9 C.R.N.S. 262 (Ont. C.A.)
    R. v. Samaras (1971), 16 C.R.N.S. 1 (Ont. C.A.)
  5. R. v. Bates (1977), 32 C.C.C. (2d) 493, 1 W.C.B. 116, 1977 CLB 408 (Ont. C.A.) at p. 494
  6. R. v. Shapley, [1998] S.J. No. 790 (Q.B.), 174 Sask.R. 92, at para. 19