DRUG users are being sent on non-existent rehabilitation programmes as a result of Government cost-cutting, according to North-East probation officers.

The claims are made in a damning report drawn up for the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) that says the justice system is under unprecedented pressure.

Probation officers say courts in the region are often forced to sentence criminals without detailed reports, leading to defendants receiving inappropriate sentences.

In some cases, they say curfews have been imposed on defendants convicted of domestic violence, increasing the risk of further harm to their victims.

The union says the fair administration of justice is being undermined by court closures, cuts to legal aid and shrinking budgets for the police, probation and prison services.

Last night, the Ministry of Justice, which oversees the probation service, said it was working on urgent reforms to make sure the punishment fitted the crime.

Staff in 20 of the 35 probation trust areas in England and Wales reported concerns to Napo during the six months to July.

Issues raised by Napo members working for Durham Tees Valley Probation Trust – which covers Darlington, County Durham and Teesside – include: 􀁥 Defendants being sent on drink and drug programmes that no longer exist; 􀁥 A lack of qualified probation staff in courts; 􀁥 Unnecessary use of short prison sentences; 􀁥 A deterioration in information provided by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Napo says problems have been reported across magistrates, crown and family courts.

Assistant general secretary Harry Fletcher said: “It is of concern that staff are reporting inappropriate sentences are being handed down, such as curfews in domestic violence cases.

“A combination of court closures, financial constraint and curtailment of legal aid is having a negative impact on the administration of justice.

“Staff report an increase in delays and adjournments in both family and criminal courts because of reports not being available, defendants not showing up at court – possibly because of court closures meaning greater travelling distances – and the absence of legal aid.

“These pressures are leading to court reports being produced quickly, on the day, therefore not containing detailed social histories, which impacts on the nature of sentencing.”

The probation service is facing a 15 per cent reduction in its budget up to 2015, while the CPS will have its funds cut by a quarter, and police forces across the country are being forced to make savings of about 20 per cent.

Mr Fletcher said: “It is critical that the administration of justice is fair and that all parties are treated properly and have adequate representation.

“This principle is being severely undermined.”

A CPS spokeswoman said probation officers needed to raise issues over the quality of information provided to prosecutors on an individual basis, so concerns could be addressed.

No one from the DTV Probation Trust, based in Middlesbrough, was available for comment, but a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “We are taking forward reforms which will benefit victims and ensure more offenders are quickly punished with a sentence that fits their crime.

“These include maximising the use of video-link technology, improving the way agencies work together, removing bureaucracy and providing value for money.

“Recent statistics show the timeliness of cases dealt with in the courts has remained consistent over time, but we want to improve this further.”