Sentencing for Drug Offences

Advice to the Sentencing Guidelines Council
Sentencing Advisory Panel
March 2010

uk-sentencingIn determining the seriousness of a drug offence the courts should focus on the quantity of the drug involved (or the scale of the operation) and the role of the offender; the Panel advises a starting point of 12 years custody for the most serious cases. Offences will be aggravated where offenders used a young person as a courier, supplied or offered to supply close to schools, targeted premises used by vulnerable people or supplied to prisoners.

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The advice also deals with the approach to sentencing drug couriers, identifying a particular group which consists of people who are naïve and vulnerable and motivated by need rather than greed whose role in the organisations is minor. The Panel advises that offenders with these characteristics should be treated as “subordinates” in the supply chain.

Summary of Recommendations

Recommendation 1
For asset recovery to have the desired effect, it is important for courts to make full use of confiscation orders and have confidence that they will be rigorously and successfully enforced. The Panel recommends that research into the effectiveness of confiscation orders and improvements to the speed and effectiveness of enforcement would be beneficial in terms of increasing confidence in the orders and asset recovery process.

Recommendation 2
The Panel recommends that, where it is established that an offender who has imported drugs on or in their person or in their luggage was involved as a result of naivety and comes within the general category of being a person who is poor or disadvantaged and motivated primarily by need rather than greed, in the absence of evidence of previous involvement in such activity their role should be regarded as subordinate. When combined with factors of offender mitigation that might be present, this will result in less severe sentences for some drug couriers than at present.

Recommendation 3
The determinants of seriousness for drug offences should be the quantity of drug (or scale of operation) and the role of the offender. In most cases, purity or street value will not be determinants of seriousness but may assist a court in determining the scale of the operation or role of the offender.