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New sentencing guidelines 'unfair', veteran drug mules lawyer warns

7 February 2012

The new sentencing guidelines for drug mules issued last month risk introducing an “unfair” two-tier system for offenders, a veteran drug mules defence lawyer has said.

Alured Darlington, who received a lifetime achievement legal aid lawyer award in 2007 for his work defending drug mules, told Solicitors Journal the new regime could see offenders sentenced before the guidelines come into effect – on 27 February – to much longer prison terms than offenders sentenced after that date.

“Unless the guideline is clarified in this respect there will be serious anomalies,” Darlington says in a letter published on solicitorsjournal.com today.

The unfairness could be such that offenders sentenced before 27 February could receive a longer prison sentence than those sentenced afterwards even in cases where their crime is less serious.

Darlington has lodged six test cases seeking to establish that the guideline should apply retrospectively and is urging solicitors whose clients have just been or will shortly be sentenced to do the same.

Solicitors involved in such cases should try and ensure that the appeal is lodged within the 28-day period, Darlington suggested, before adding that although adhering strictly to the time limit was not generally regarded as essential where there was obvious merit in the appeal, "this could be crucial in these cases should the Court of Appeal decide they want to draw a line at that point and only permit appeals which are in time".

“A small implosion in sentence appeals to the Court of Appeal would be inconvenient but would be preferable to the obvious injustice otherwise caused,” he said.

Darlington argues that the current guidelines – known as the Aramah guidelines, after the 1982 case where Lord Lane laid down minimum terms for the import and supply of drugs – have been regarded as too high for years and that they should be disapplied immediately.

“The difference in sentences between the two sentencing regimes amount to years so solicitors should be advising their clients about this immediately,” he said.

He went on: “The matter is urgent because the Court of Appeal may be more receptive to those who have lodged appeals in time. Sentences were still being imposed under the Aramah guidelines until very recently so there may still be time to lodge appeals in those cases.”

The new guidelines, published on 24 January, provide for shorter sentences where drug couriers were coerced into drug trafficking. Economic duress will be considered, as will cases where a mule is financially supporting their family or have dependents such as children or elderly relatives.

For a category 2 contested case – where the quantity is one kilogramme or less – the sentence will now be six rather than 12 years.

Darlington said one of his clients, sentenced to seven years on 5 January, would have received only five years under the new guidelines.

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Procedures Police & Prisons