Sentencing for drug offences in England and Wales has recently undergone a widesweeping review and public consultation. Fundamental issues of principle were brought forward for a constructive public discussion for the first time and an Advice has been issued which, if adopted, will radically change sentencing in the courts for many drug offences, and particularly in the case of drug-couriers. The purpose of this report is to examine and evaluate this mechanism for law reform, without the need for legislative reform, and to consider the specific discussion around sentencing for drug offences which it has led to.

Conclusions & Recommendations

  • Through the Sentencing Advisory Panel (SAP) we have learnt that deterrence as the basis of drug sentencing is, in fact, without evidence-base and ineffective. 
  • In the UK, current levels of sentencing for drugs couriers are disproportionate to their culpability and to the harm associated with their offence.
  • SAP’s advice has attempted to give a delicate balance between the consistency, transparency, and separation of powers necessary for the rule of law, the predictability which allows better resource allocation, and the overriding commitment to do justice in the individual case.

TNI/IDPC Drug Law Reform Project

This briefing forms part of series under a joint project on Drug Law Reform from the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC). This project aims to promote more humane, balanced, and effective drug laws and seeks to stimulate the debate around legislative reforms by highlighting good practices and lessons learned in areas such as decriminalisation, proportionality of sentences, specific harm reduction measures, alternatives to incarceration, and scheduling criteria for different substances. It also aims to encourage a constructive dialogue amongst policy makers, multi-lateral agencies and civil society in order to shape policies that are grounded in the principles of human rights, public health and harm reduction.