Sentencing for Drugs Offences
New sentencing guidelines for some drugs offences will come in to force on 1 April 2021 and will apply to all cases sentenced on or after that date.
The update is to reflect ‘modern drug offending’ and new guidelines for offences created by legislation ‘Psychoactive Substances Act 2016’ to bring clarity and transparency around the sentencing process for drug offences.
These new guidelines introduce what is called ‘aggravating factors’ that could increase sentences for offenders who use the home of a vulnerable person (so-called ‘cuckooing’), manipulating children or run county lines in their offending (this means the dealing of serious drugs from one city/town to another).
In the consultation, these factors were represented as providing a leading role in the offending but have now been changed to aggravating factors after consultation, showing that they are not just for offenders in a leading role but also offenders lower in the offending chain that may also manipulate vulnerable people or children in their offending.
The Council also decided to “future proof” the guideline by agreeing to review the ‘harm table’ every three years, meaning that they would look at the list of drugs included, and the quantities given.
New and more powerful drugs have also been brought onto the market over recent years, including various kinds of “Spice”, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil.
The new Misuse of Drugs Act guidelines provide for such drugs.
In the assessment of harm, the quantity of some drugs has been updated to reflect the change in purity (ecstasy) and yield (cannabis) of the drugs since the 2012 guidelines.
Differences in sentencing outcomes
Research conducted by the Sentencing Council in preparation for producing the guidelines shows that there are differences in sentence outcomes for some drug offences associated with ethnicity and sex. The Council has taken measures in the guidelines to address this, including drawing sentencers’ attention to evidence of sentencing differences in certain offences as an essential part the sentencing process.
The Council states that it is committed to investigating apparent differences in sentencing outcomes further. As part of this work the Council has put together an internal working group to consider what further steps might be taken in this area and is in the process of writing a review of how its guidelines operate to help identify any areas for further work.
Overall Sentencing Trends
It is too difficult to predict what will happen in relation to overall sentence lengths once these guidelines come in to force, but what is expected, based on previous experience, is that sentences may in some cases increase in length.
As a firm, we will be carefully monitoring the impact of the guidelines and will not hesitate to advise on appeal where necessary.