Practice and Procedure

ATTORNEY-GENERAL'S REFERENCES (NOS.55 and 56 of 2003) sub nom R v THOMAS : R v HILLS (2003)

PUBLISHED November 26, 2003

In light of authorities, sentences of five years' and four years' imprisonment for possession of a large quantity of cocaine were unduly lenient and taking into account double jeopardy, would be quashed and substituted with eight and six years respectively.Application by the Attorney-General to refer, under s.36 Criminal Justice Act 1988, sentences imposed on the defendants ('T' and 'H') of five years' imprisonment, in respect of T and four years' imprisonment, in respect of H for drug offences. On 2 July 2003 T pleaded guilty to possession of Class A drugs, namely cocaine, with intent to supply and H pleaded guilty to possession of class A drugs. T and H were observed by customs meeting in a secluded street where T supplied H with five kilos of cocaine with a street value of ?500,000. They were arrested and when T was asked about the drugs he said "it's just puff". T was also in possession of three mobile phones and H had two. Both T and H gave no comment interviews. T entered his plea of guilty on the basis he thought he was collecting " a bit of puff" and had been paid £100, that was rejected by the judge at a Newton hearing. The Attorney-General referred the sentences as unduly lenient given the aggravating factors of: (i) the quantity of cocaine involved; (ii) they were entrusted with a valuable consignment; (iii) they were involved in a well organised and planned transaction. In mitigation were the pleas of guilty, even though the discount awarded to T was reduced as he had contested the factual basis and H's good character. The sentences passed failed to reflect the seriousness of the offence, the aggravating features and the need for deterrence. There should be no distinction between a courier bringing drugs into the country and someone carrying drugs within the jurisdiction. Authorities suggested that even for much lesser amounts of drugs the starting point was a sentence in the region of ten years' imprisonment, therefore for the present amount of drugs the starting point ought to have been 14 years following a trial.HELD: (1) The facts of being a courier, whether bringing drugs into the country or dealing with the drugs once in the country were matters properly to be determined in particular cases. (2) Having regard to the authorities, sentence in relation to T should have been in the region of nine to ten years and in relation to H seven to eight years. That level more properly reflected culpability. It followed that the sentences passed were unduly lenient and, taking into account the principle of double jeopardy, the sentences would be quashed and T's would be substituted with eight years' imprisonment and H's substituted with six years.Leave to refer granted application allowed.