Courts issued with new guideline for sentencing drug offenders

Today the Sentencing Council has published a new definitive guideline on drug offences.

It will bring sentencing guidance together for the first time to help to ensure consistent and proportionate sentencing for all drug offences that come before courts in England and Wales.

The guideline covers the most commonly sentenced offences – importation, production, supply, permitting premises to be used for drug offences and possession. All drugs from class A to C are covered by the guideline, which will be used for sentencing in both the Crown Court and magistrates’ courts.

Under the new guideline there are likely to be increased sentence lengths for those guilty of large scale production offences and reduced sentence lengths for drug mules. Sentences for drug mules – who are usually vulnerable and exploited by organised criminals – will have a starting point of six years imprisonment*.

There will be no change in sentencing for possession or drug supply offences. Where an offender profits from selling drugs, a prison sentence can be expected.  Street dealers who have a significant role in selling class A drugs, particularly those who sell drugs for profit can expect a custodial sentence with a starting point of four and a half years. Sentences could go up to 16 years for a single incident depending on the quantity of drugs involved.

The guideline also introduces a new aggravating factor to supply offences to ensure that where offenders are dealing to those under the age of 18 they are treated more severely.

The publication of the guideline follows a public consultation on the Council’s draft proposals, which heard from nearly 700 members of the public, criminal justice professionals and other interested parties. The responses received were extremely helpful and influenced the final guideline.

The Sentencing Council also conducted public research into attitudes to sentencing for drug offences, which revealed that there was little support for custodial sentences for drug possession or for substantial custodial penalties for small-scale supply or small to medium-scale importation offences. On the other hand, it did indicate that there was support for lengthy custodial sentences for medium to large-scale supply and large-scale importation offences.

Deputy Chairman of the Sentencing Council, Lord Justice Hughes, said:
“Drug offending has to be taken seriously.  Drug abuse underlies a huge volume of acquisitive and violent crime and dealing can blight communities.  Offending and offenders vary widely so we have developed this guideline to ensure there is effective guidance for sentencers and clear information for victims, witnesses and the public on how drug offenders are sentenced.

“This guideline reinforces current sentencing practice. Drug dealers can expect substantial jail sentences.

“We are grateful to everyone who gave us their views on our proposals. The wide ranging responses from both the public and criminal justice professionals have helped shape this guideline and make it more effective.”

Chief Constable Tim Hollis, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) lead for Drugs said:

“The Association of Chief Police Officers welcomes the Sentencing Council drug offences guidelines. Police take the issue of tackling drug offences seriously and the sentencing of offenders provides part of the overall approach to combating such crime and reducing harm to local communities. The Council has clearly given a good deal of consideration to the new guidelines and has produced a document which provides the police and our criminal justice partners with consistent guidance yet still provides the courts with flexibility to deal with each case on its own merits where appropriate.”

Following the publication of the guideline, there will be a short implementation period and the guideline will be used in courts from 27 February 2012.

* A drug mule should not be confused with other types of offender sentenced for importation offences – if the court decides that he or she has a more significant role in importing drugs, then a longer prison sentence would be passed.