Sentencing for drugs offences – public consultation launched on new guideline for judges

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 www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk