Submitted by Liberty
1. Liberty (The National Council for Civil
Liberties) is one of the UK's leading civil liberties and human
rights organisations. Liberty works to promote human rights and
protect civil liberties through a combination of test case litigation,
lobbying, campaigning and research. It is the largest organisation
of its kind in Europe and is democratically run.
2. Liberty welcomes the opportunity to present
evidence to the Home Affairs Committee in respect of the Government's
drugs policy. In the opinion of Liberty the current policy is
not working and requires radical overhaul.
3. Liberty considers that the current policy
of criminalisation of possession, use and supply of drugs represents
serious infringements into civil liberties that are unjustified.
Liberty therefore calls for the general decriminalisation of possession,
use and supply and supply of all drugs, for the regime for control
of drugs to be replaced by a civil mechanism of control, and for
there to be right of access to the lawful supply of drugs.
4. Liberty considers as part of a free,
democratic society individuals should be able to make and carry
out informed decisions as to their conduct, free of state interference,
or in particular the criminal law, unless there are pressing social
reasons otherwise. Liberty is of the view that the decision by
an individual to take drugs is such a decision and comes within
the ambit of personal autonomy and private life.
5. John Stuart Mill argued that the state
has no right to intervene to prevent individuals from harming
themselves, if no harm was thereby done to the rest of society.
"Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual
is sovereign." Such fundamental rights are recognised by
government, both in allowing individuals to partake of certain
dangerous activities, for example drinking, extreme sports, and
also in international treaties.
6. Article 8 of the European Convention
on Human Rights provides:
"Everyone has respect for his private and
family life, his home and his correspondence.
There shall be no interference by a public authority
with the exercise of this right except as in accordance with the
law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests
of national security, public safety or the economic well being
of the county, for the prevention of crime, for the projection
of health and morals, or for the protection of rights and freedoms
7. In a society that respects fundamental
freedoms of the individual, and in particular the right to individual
autonomy and choice, general restrictions and criminalisation
of taking of drugs, cannot be justified.
8. We would not argue for complete de-regulation
of all drugs. We accept that there are circumstances which will
require regulation, and in some cases criminalisation, of aspects
of supply and consumption of drugs. These would include for example
the supply of drugs to minors, or those suffering from certain
forms of mental illness, the use of drugs by those in professions
where public safety is at issue, and basic criminal law provisions,
such as driving under the influence of drink or drugs, where consumption
of drugs can cause harm to others. We would call for drugs to
be regulated on public health grounds in a similar matter to other
foods and non-illegal drugs, which would allow for access to the
legal supply of drugs.
9. In addition Liberty would state that
the practical consequences of current drugs policy also creates
substantive infringements into basic civil liberties. The nature
of trying to police and fight crime on such levels has led to
significant increases in draconian and restrictive laws and policing
methods. Compared, for example, to measures taken in respect of
prevention of terrorism, over the past 20 years measures to counteract
the "war against drugs" have had a far more wide-ranging
effect on basic human rights .
10. A significant proportion of the policing,
and wider criminal justice budget, is spent on drugs-related crime.
Estimates suggest that 1/3 of the proceeds of all acquisitive
crime go towards funding the purchase of illegal drugs, and according
to Interpol the international illegal drugs trade accounts for
approximately 8 per cent of all international trade.
11. The origin and impact of policing and
legislative methods to tackle drugs are both national and international.
The nature of offences connected with the illegal drugs trade
respond to forms of covert investigation and policing, not generally
being crimes that have direct victims or witnesses. Thus methods
such as the use of entrapment, listening devices and other forms
of intelligence and surveillance, have been developed and are
used "to fight the war against drugs". Such methods
of policing are by their very nature intrusive and restrictions
on civil liberties, in particular article 8 rights, but also article
6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
12. Erosion of basic human rights standards
can also be seen in the attempt to tackle drugs from the seizure
of assets angle. Thus recently the European Convention on Human
Rights has recently upheld the provisions of the Drug Trafficking
Act, which effectively reverses the burden of proof in a criminal
matter. Additional measures such as the proposal for seizure of
assets, and establishment of criminal assets criminal assets recovery
agency which offend principles such as presumption of innocence
are being proposed.
13. The increased use of such measures represents
significant incursions in to basic human rights standards. Mechanisms
for control and regulation are inadequate or non-existent, both
nationally and internationally. Hence the Regulation of Investigatory
Powers Act 2000 gave the police wide-ranging intrusive powers,
and has been criticised both for this, and the lack of adequate
regulation of some of these powers. Internationally there are
insufficient mechanisms to regulate international practices, databases
and sharing of information, with the establishment of systems
such as Schengen Information system, Convention on mutual assurance
in criminal matters 2000, Europol, Eurojust, Eurodac and Echelon.
Regulation of these systems and methods of information gathering
is inadequate, or non existent. The problem of lack of adequate
regulation of these techniques was illustrated by the Van Traa
enquiry in Holland into the use of entrapment.
14. In our view the effects of criminalisation
of drugs, and the consequent policing such criminalisation requires
constitute significant intrusions into civil liberties, and the
privacy of the individual.
15. The current drugs policy also has adverse
affects on significant numbers of the community, in particular
those who are disadvantaged and disproportionately ethnic minorities.
Disadvantaged communities have fewer opportunities. The amounts
of money that can be made from drugs are inevitably attractive
to poorer elements of the population, who otherwise are unlikely
to have access to high income earning jobs, and who see role models
in their communities with the accessories of drugs income (flash
cars, jewellery etc.) One of the major avenues open to individuals
in these communities, and in particular young men from ethnic
minority groups, is the illicit drug trade. This can be seen recently
in the increased involvement of Asian and Kurdish offenders in
respect of drugs offences. Equally the poor and disadvantaged
are more likely to have to fund their drug taking by crime than
16. Additionally in such communities a prevalence
of drug culture can lead to a prevalence of violence. This is
illustrated more starkly in the American ghettos, but there are
signs of this increasing in this country, in particular with the
presence of yardie gangs in areas of London and other major cities.
17. Drugs-related offences account for a
significant proportion of crime. Ethnic minorities are disproportionately
represented at all stages of the criminal justice system. Criminalisation
of drugs clearly has implications for discrimination against ethnic
18. There are considerable arguments as
to the health, addictive, and behavioural aspects of drugs, and
the implications for legalisation on these. We would welcome the
opportunity to expand on these and other issues in oral evidence
to the Committee.