Sentencing for drugs offences – public consultation launched on new guideline for judges
28 March 2011
Today, the Sentencing Council is launching a three-month public consultation on its proposals to introduce a new guideline for judges and magistrates for the sentencing of drugs offenders.
Although sentencers have been assisted by judgments of the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division), and there are guidelines in relation to some offences being sentenced in the magistrates’ court, there is no statutory guideline that covers drugs offences in the Crown Court. Following work from the Sentencing Advisory Panel, the new guideline will cover offences in both the Crown and magistrates courts and will therefore encourage a consistency in approach to sentencing drugs offenders.
The draft guideline covers the most commonly sentenced drugs offences including importation, production, supply, permitting premises to be used for drugs offences and possession. For the first time in the Crown Court, it will mean that sentences are based on the court’s assessment of the offender’s role in the offence and the quantity of drugs involved or scale of the operation.
Drug barons playing a leading role in large scale offences such as smuggling and supply will continue to face long prison sentences but the guideline also intends to distinguish these leading players from those in subordinate roles such as drug mules, who may be coerced or misled into carrying drugs. To tackle increases in production offences, the guideline also ensures that tougher sentences are available for those running large scale operations.
The Council is proposing an approach that is intended to ensure that sentencing levels for the other offences remain broadly consistent with current practice. The draft guideline also sends a clear message that supply of drugs to prisoners will be dealt with severely.
The Council welcomes all comments on these proposals to help shape the definitive version of the guideline that will be produced following the consultation.
Following the high level of response to its consultation on the revised guideline for assault offences, the Council is very keen to encourage a similar detailed response from legal professionals, interest groups and members of the public about its proposals on sentencing for drugs. There are consultation documents for both legal professionals and the public, along with an online questionnaire to ensure it is easy to respond.
Chairman of the Sentencing Council, Lord Justice Leveson, said:
“We want to ensure that those who are responsible for the most serious drug crime receive the longest sentences and that punishments overall are in proportion to the offender’s role and the amount of drugs involved."
“This is a public consultation: we want to encourage any member of the public to share their views with us.”
Submissions to the consultation can be made by email or post to the Sentencing Council any time between 28 March and 20 June. All consultation documents, along with a resource assessment and equality impact assessment and research report can be found at http://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/.
Notes to editors
1. Responses to the consultation should be sent by 20 June 2011 to:
Office of the Sentencing Council
Steel House, 11 Tothill Street
London SW1H 9LJ
Tel: 020 3334 0475
Fax: 020 3334 0406
A shorter public consultation paper, a separate draft guideline, a resource assessment, an equality impact assessment, a research report and an online questionnaire are also available during this consultation period. These can be found at: http://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/
2. The guideline will cover the following offences
Fraudulent evasion of a prohibition by bringing into or taking out of the UK a controlled drug – Misuse of Drugs Act (section 3) and Customs & Excise Management Act 1979
This offence occurs when an offender is knowingly engaged in bringing into or taking out of the UK a controlled (illegal) drug. There is a wide range of possible levels of an offender’s involvement in this type of operation, and therefore an offender’s role is a key consideration when determining the seriousness of the offence. An offender can be sentenced to a maximum of life imprisonment for an offence involving Class A drugs, and to a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine for offences involving Class B or C drugs.
Supplying or offering to supply a controlled drug – Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (section 4(3))
This offence occurs when an offender supplies, or offers to supply, another person with a controlled drug. This includes distribution of a drug. The offence does not require proof of payment or reward, nor does it require proof that the offender intended to produce the drugs or had the drugs in his/her possession when making the offer to supply. An offender can be sentenced to a maximum of life imprisonment for supplying a Class A drug, and to a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine for supplying Class B or C drugs.
Possession of a controlled drug with the intent to supply it to another – Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (section 5(3))
This offence occurs when an offender is in possession of a controlled drug with the intent of supplying it to another. An offender can be sentenced for up to a maximum of life imprisonment for possessing a Class A drug with the intent to supply it to another, and to a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine for possessing Class B or C drugs with the intent of supplying to another.
Production of a controlled drug – Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (section 4(2)(a) or (b)
This offence occurs when an offender produces (by manufacture, cultivation or any other method) a controlled drug of Classes A, B or C, or where an offender has in some way participated in such production. Production also includes conversion of one drug to another, for example producing “crack” cocaine from cocaine hydrochloride. An offender can be sentenced to a maximum of life imprisonment for production of a Class A drug, and to a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment for the production of Class B or C drugs.
Cultivation of cannabis plant – Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (section 6(2))
This exists as an offence separate to production of a controlled drug and occurs when an offender cultivates a cannabis plant of any kind. It is a matter for the prosecution to decide with which offence a defendant should be charged. An offender can be sentenced to a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment for this offence.
Permitting premises to be used – Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (section 8)
This offence occurs when an offender who is the occupier of a premises, or involved in its management, knowingly allows this premises to be used for drug-related activity. An offender can be sentenced to a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment for this offence.
Possession of a controlled drug – Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (section 5(2))
This offence occurs when an offender is in physical possession or in control of a controlled drug but without the intent to supply to another. The offender must have knowledge of possessing the item, even if he/she did not know it was a controlled drug. An offender can be sentenced to a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment (Class A), five years’ imprisonment (Class B) or two years’ imprisonment (Class C) for this offence.
3. The Sentencing Council was created by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to bring together the functions of the two previous bodies, the Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC) and Sentencing Advisory Panel (SAP), which were disbanded. The Sentencing Council is a more streamlined body with a greater remit to take forward work on sentencing not only through improvements to guidelines but also through the development of a robust evidence base and engaging more with the public to improve understanding about sentences.