Drug smugglers and dealers to get law thaw in UK  

AFP Photo / Leon Neal
Drug smugglers and street dealers could avoid prison in the UK even if caught with heroin, cocaine or thousands of pounds worth of cannabis, under new guidelines on drug offenses published by the Sentencing Council for England and Wales on Tuesday.

­The new guidelines, to come into force next month, on February 27, were put out following a three-month public consultation. They cover importation, supply, production, permitting premises to be used for drug-related activities, and possession offences.
"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,” said Lord Justice Hughes, deputy chairman of the Sentencing Council, as quoted by the British media.

According to the official website of the Council, the guidelines intend to distinguish the leading players in drug smuggling from those in subordinate roles such as drug mules, who may be coerced or misled into carrying drugs.

It will mean that sentences are based on a court’s assessment of the offender’s role, and on the quantity of drugs involved, or the scale of the operation.

Reports suggest offenders who play a “limited” role in gangs, including low-level dealers and so-called drug mules, who bring narcotics into the country, could now face community orders rather than jail sentences. This particular draft received major support during the consultations.

Drug barons playing a leading role in large-scale offences such as smuggling and supply will continue to face long prison sentences, as will those who sell directly to the public, especially to children.

Police have suggested that gang leaders would be able to escape jail by claiming that they were lesser members.

How can a court be expected to differentiate between the person who says, I am very low in the chain, and those high up?” questioned Peter Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, as quoted by The Telegraph. “No matter how big a role I played, if I was in their shoes and arrested for drugs I would say I was a low-level player or forced into it. If they can see a loophole, then of course they will go through it.

Under the new guidelines, dealers caught with 6kg of cannabis, valued at thousands of US dollars, or 20 ecstasy tablets, could now avoid prison and receive a community sentence. Heroin and cocaine dealers deemed to have played only a “minimal” role and workers in small cannabis “farms” could also escape custody.