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Sentencing council public consultation on guidelines for judges

  1. Pondlife
    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:
    Katharina Walsh
    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 “crackcocaine 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.

    For more information, please contact Nick Mann, Sentencing Council press officer, on 020 3334 0631


  1. Pondlife
    Predictably, The Mail and The Sun (two British tabloid newspapers) have their own views on this consultation process. Details below...
  2. Pondlife
    Heroin dealers to escape jail: New sentencing proposals mean pushers would go free
    Drug dealers could in future escape jail even if they sell up to £2,000 worth of heroin.

    New guidelines would allow courts to give community penalties to those playing a ‘subordinate’ role in a criminal gang.

    The ‘lower level’ offenders – such as drug runners – could keep their liberty even if arrested over the sale of up to 50 grams of heroin or cocaine or up to 100 tablets of ecstasy.

    Under the Sentencing Council’s proposals, these quantities would be seen as small. However, 50g is enough for 1,000 hits of heroin or 1,000 lines of cocaine.

    Critics of the plans say the wrong message is being sent to criminals.

    ‘Anyone involved in the drug trade should face a custodial sentence and they should know they face a custodial sentence,’ said Tory MP James Clappison.

    ‘The idea you can supply 99 people with ecstasy and be described in any way as a minor participant is boggling. Nobody is going to put their hands up in court and say “I’m Mr Big”.’

    Jail sentences will be reduced for dealers who say they are sorry or otherwise show remorse, the guidelines suggest.

    Terms can be cut for a first offence, or if defendants can prove they were ‘vulnerable’ and were exploited by other dealers.

    Further reductions are available for those addicted to the drugs they are selling or ‘lacking in maturity’. Guilty pleas can already see sentences cut by a third.

    For cannabis, the punishments are even softer. A subordinate dealer could avoid jail even if they were involved in the supply of up to 50kg of the Class B drug.

    Community service would be the ‘starting’ sentence for those who sell less than 1kg of the drug. For less than 100g, they face only a fine.

    The Sentencing Council – an independent body comprising judges, prosecutors and police officers – has asked for public views by June 20. The proposals could be put into operation within months.

    It is the first time rules for dealing with different drug crimes have been laid out so explicitly.

    Under the council’s Drug Offences Guideline, punishments would be graded according to the dealer’s role in the sale, and the quantity and class of the drug involved.

    Drug barons who sell very large amounts – defined as 10kg of heroin or cocaine or up to 20,000 tablets of ecstasy – face a ‘starting point’ of 14 years in jail.

    But those with a subordinate role can have a much reduced term – ranging from three and a half years in prison to a community order for deals involving 50g of heroin or cocaine, 50 tabs of LSD or 100 ecstasy tablets.

    A subordinate is defined as someone who ‘performs a limited function under direction, in an operation which is not their own, for example runners.’

    It can also include those employed by major dealers.

    Lord Justice Leveson, who chairs the council, 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.’

    But Dr David Green, director of the Civitas think tank, said the courts should be throwing the book at drug dealers.

    ‘If we are going to be serious about reducing drug-taking then it’s right to be treating users,’ he said. ‘But dealers are different. They are taking advantage of other people’s weakness and a prison punishment is the proper response.’

    Community service will be the ‘starting point’ sentence for users caught with up to 10g of heroin or cocaine, or up to 20 tablets of Ecstasy, the guidelines say. Tougher terms will be handed to prisoners caught with drugs.

    Drug mules who bring illegal substances into the country in their luggage or by swallowing them will be regarded as subordinates and will see their average sentences fall sharply.

    Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is already under pressure over proposals to cut the number of prison places by 3,000 by 2015, and slash the number of criminals given short sentences.

    A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘The Government is considering its response to these proposals. We are committed to tackling the drugs trade, and believe in tough punishments for those who profit from the misery that drugs create.’

    A spokesman for the Sentencing Council said: ‘Our proposals take into account the impact of drugs on communities, and all offenders guilty of supplying drugs will have their sentences increased where harm to the community is shown to have occurred.

    ‘Someone who is found guilty of dealing even a very small quantity of drugs could face a starting point of more than five years in jail, which will be increased if there are further aggravating features.’


    As every parent knows, pushers of hard drugs are among the most insidious enemies of our society, profiting from misery and degradation and driving countless young people to crime and, all too often, early graves.

    Yet under these astonishing draft guidelines, the Sentencing Council suggests that even the evil men and women who sell enough heroin and cocaine for 1,000 doses would be treated like minor criminals and allowed to escape jail.

    One of the Coalition’s most popular pledges was that it would create a ‘bonfire of the quangos’, putting important political decisions back where they belong, in the hands of elected representatives in Parliament.

    So why is this council allowed to go on overruling the will of the people and making a nonsense of the maximum sentences laid down by law to protect our children?

  3. Pondlife
    IT'S not just Ken Clarke who has gone nuts.

    The Sentencing Council, a body of judges and lawyers that advises on punishments, has lost its reason too.

    It wants courts to virtually let off many dealers in heroin, crack and ecstasy.

    Drug peddlers who prey on teenagers would get soft community sentences for having "small quantities" of up to 49.9 grams of heroin or 99 ecstasy tablets. Similar rules would apply to LSD and amphetamines.

    All these substances carry serious risks. Heroin, in particular, is an appallingly dangerous drug. And 49.9g is not a small quantity. It is enough for hundreds of "hits".

    Just a few milligrams is enough to put a victim on the road to addiction, misery and possible death.

    As for ecstasy dealers, they will simply make sure they are carrying no more than 99 tablets - just one can kill - before targeting youngsters.

    What planet is the Sentencing Council on? Does it really believe Britain wants the soft touch for lowlifes who snare vulnerable young people into degradation?

    The very judges and lawyers who should be defending us against the drugs scourge are instead going easy on the enemy.

    At the top of the system swaggers Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, the criminal's best friend. We know whose side he'll be on.

    That's why today The Sun says No To Soft Justice on drugs.

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