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Sentencing Council revise drug sentencing guidelines

Revised guidelines

26 February 2021
Sentencing Council revise drug sentencing guidelines

Following consultation, the Sentencing Council has published revised sentencing guidelines for drug offences in England and Wales. They will come into effect on 1 April 2021. The changes reflect the changing nature of offending, the increasing seriousness of the offences, emerging drugs and new offences related to psychoactive substances.

The changes apply to the current drug offences guidelines, which came into force in 2012 and cover offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) 1971 to bring them up to date with modern drug offending, and to introduce guidelines for new offences created by the Psychoactive Substances Act (PSA) 2016.

Changes introduced in the new guidelines include:

  • The introduction of aggravating factors that could increase sentences for offenders who use the home of a vulnerable person (so-called ‘cuckooing’), exploit children or run county lines in their offending
  • In the assessment of harm, the quantity of some drugs has been updated to reflect the changes in purity (ecstasy) and yield (cannabis) of the drugs since 2012
  • Covering new and more powerful drugs which have been brought onto the market over recent years, including various kinds of ‘Spice’ and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl

Research conducted by the Council prior to producing the guidelines indicated that there are disparities in sentence outcomes for some drug offences associated with ethnicity and gender. The Council has taken measures in the guidelines to address this, including drawing sentencers’ attention to evidence of sentencing disparities in specific offences as an integral part of the sentencing process.

The new guidelines can be found here.                    

The MA response to the consultation can be found here.

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