Broadly, we welcome the Sentencing Council’s attempts through the draft guidelines to bring better coherence and consistency to the decision-making process of the courts system. We appreciate how it has sought to address the issue of ‘drug mules’ and to ensure that those with addiction problems receive a sentence that reflects their special problems, while at the same time, ensuring that those that produce, traffic or supply controlled drugs receive appropriate sentences.
The earlier Sentencing Advisory Panel (SAP) consultation document and subsequent guidance to the Sentencing Guidelines Council on drug offences also sought to provide advice on this matter. The SAP approach was particularly welcome in that it sought to relate its analysis to the evidence base, especially about the impact of various sentences. In particular, in:
- contrasting the seriousness of drug offences with other types of offence, and
- examining the evidence about the deterrent effect of custodial sentences.
We were somewhat surprised therefore to see little reference in the current consultation document to the evidence base and how the draft guidelines take account of it. Rather, we see a reliance on ‘both case law and current sentencing practice’ without any clear underpinning rationale other than seeking to ‘uphold the current level of sentencing for those offenders playing a leading role in importation, supply and production offences’.
In the light of much public, political and media misunderstanding about both drugs and sentencing, we believe there is a risk of missing an opportunity to bring greater evidence-based rationale and rigour to tackling drug offences.