The advent of so-called ‘zero tolerance’ policies for the possession, supply, production and importation of illegal drugs has led many countries to enact draconian laws. The UK is no exception.
Drugs offences in the UK are investigated by various UK government agencies, including the police, Border Force, the National Crime Agency and HMRC. These organisations have been granted the powers and resources necessary to investigate effectively all manner of drugs allegations.
Hickman & Rose’s work in this area covers the whole gambit of offences. Clients include high profile individuals investigated for possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use, to individuals caught up in allegations of highly organised international importation and supply. The firm’s lawyers are expert in navigating the often complex evidential matrices arising from drugs investigations.
The nature of many drugs allegations means that anyone who suspects they may be under investigation for such offences is advised to seek expert legal advice as soon as possible. Our experience in this area shows that early legal intervention can have a dramatically beneficial effect on a case’s outcome.
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (‘MDA’) is the primary piece of UK legislation which creates the numerous offences relating to controlled drugs. MDA also classifies the substances which are controlled into three categories according to the perceived level of dangerousness or harm. These categories are:
There are various offences under the MDA. The most common include:
Possession of a controlled drug for personal use (section 5 (1) MDA) is the least serious of the MDA offences. The quantity and nature of the substance found will determine whether possession is consistent with personal use.
Possession of larger quantities of controlled drugs may be indicative of possession with intent to supply (section 5(3) MDA). “Supply” can be not-for-profit social supply, for example where it is intended to give the drug to a friend, or it can be commercial supply, from street dealing to larger scale dealing.
Production and Supply
Production and supply of drugs are both offences under section 4 MDA. In cases alleging supply, the prosecution will have to produce evidence of supply or evidence from which supply can be inferred.
These cases can range in complexity from a straightforward witnessing of a drugs deal in a relatively open environment such as a nightclub or on the street, to the intricate and extensive evidence derived from an undercover surveillance operation involving listening devices, phone tapping and mobile phone analysis. This latter, large scale offending is often conducted by criminal gangs involved in so-called ‘county lines’ offending
Cultivation of cannabis plants is an offence under section 6 of the MDA.
Permitting premises to be used for supply
Permitting premises to be used for the supply of a controlled drug is an offence under section 8 of the MDA.
Importation of drugs is an offence under section 3 MDA and section 179 Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. These offences can range from having a controlled drug posted or couriered to the UK from abroad to international drug smuggling.
In 2016 the Psychoactive Substances Act (“PSA”) was enacted to ban the production, distribution, sale and supply of ‘psychoactive substances’.
The PSA defines a ‘psychoactive substance’ as any non-exempted substance capable of producing a ‘psychoactive effect’ in a person who consumes it. A ‘psychoactive effect’ is defined as occurring ‘if, by stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system, it affects the person’s mental function or emotional state’.
The offence of drug driving was introduced into law in 2015 under section 5A Road Traffic Act 1988 (“RTA”). The allegation relates to driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of a motor vehicle with a specified controlled drug in the blood or urine, which exceeds the prescribed limit for that drug. This offence supplements the earlier offence driving whilst unfit through drugs, which was often difficult to prove.
Offences relating to prescription only medicines are often investigated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, including the extremely serious diversion of prescription only medicines onto the criminal market.
Being investigated in connection with a drugs offence can have serious negative ramifications beyond those imposed by the criminal justice system. Depending on the nature of the allegations and the personal circumstances of the suspect, these consequences can sometimes be much more impactful than any sentence handed down by a court.
One of the most common collateral consequences of a drugs conviction is the restriction on travelling abroad imposed by some countries (most particularly the USA). The inability to travel for work is, for some people, deeply professionally damaging.
Then there are the consequential criminal proceedings for the restraint, freezing and confiscation of bank accounts and other assets which can flow from a criminal investigation and conviction for drug trafficking.
On top of this there is also the serious reputational damage that can be sustained by an individual (particularly someone with a high public profile) even in circumstances where that person is acquitted of any crime.
Managing these threats – and others likes them – requires the development of a deft legal strategy incorporating skills and tactics over and beyond the presentation of a criminal defence.
Hickman & Rose’s Serious and General Crime team have long experience dealing successfully with drugs allegations. The firm’s lawyers pride themselves on the thoroughness of their evidential analysis and on their utterly strategic approach to building a defence.
This strategic approach often involves consulting with a network of trusted independent experts such as drugs dependency experts, psychologists, reputation and media lawyers and our own in-house civil litigators.
The firm has achieved significant success in ending unmerited drugs investigations and in achieving acquittals. The firm has often managed to ensure that reputationally damaging information relating to drugs investigations stays outside the public domain, and that any conviction has the minimal possible personal consequences.