Examination of witnesses (Questions 80
THURSDAY 8 JUNE 2000
RUNCIMAN, DBE, MR
QPM, MS ANNETTE
and DR BARRIE
80. I wonder whether you saw the Holland experience
through, if you will forgive the expression, a euphoric haze?
Let me quote to you a paragraph from an article in The Superintendent
this Spring. "Since the adoption of the more liberal approach,
cannabis use among school children has more than doubled, cocaine
use by the 14 to 16 year olds is the highest in Europe, drug related
juvenile crime, particularly violence, has increased, child prostitution
has escalated and most of the ecstasy coming into Britain comes
from Holland." Now in terms of what you have been saying
about Holland how do you react to that statement?
(Mr Hamilton) I think that in terms of the Dutch experience
certainly The Netherlands is a gateway into Europe for drugs;
there is absolutely no doubt about that. It has the largest port
in Rotterdam. It would be surprising therefore if it were not
a major gateway. I think that what we also need to recognise is
that the Dutch Customs have seizures of all sorts of drugs entering
into The Netherlands that put the United Kingdom to shame.
81. The point is that they are saying that since
the adoption of a more liberal approach to cannabis these things
(Mr Hamilton) I would like to see the evidence.
82. You do not believe that?
(Mr Hamilton) I am saying I would like to see the
(Dame Ruth Runciman) The evidence from the Lisbon
monitoring centre is that it certainly has increased in Holland;
they would be the first to admit it, but the relative increase
is mirrored particularly in this country and by other countries
in Europe. That is the point. What we are sayingand nor
do the Dutch say itwe took evidence from opponents of that
policy. They are not saying they have solved the drug problem.
What they are saying is three important things: "We treat
drug use as a health problem before a crime problem. We have taken
considerable steps to separate the markets for cannabis from hard
drugs with some evidence that that has beneficial results and
that the social costs of our policy, particularly in terms of
marginalisation of disadvantaged young people are less for the
83. Was it not very remiss of your inquiry though
not to look at the experience of Sweden?
(Dame Ruth Runciman) We did look at the experience
of Sweden. Sweden was one of the countries in our specifically
commissioned work by the ISDD. The Swedes have a zero tolerance
policy, they have lower rates. They also actually, interestingly
enough, have quite a lot of diversion from prosecution for drug
use, quite a high, as it were, expediency policy. But we did look
at it and it both in our Report and in our study.
84. Have you commissioned any research or are
you familiar with research on establishing how much crime is committed
under the influence of a class B drug?
(Mr Hamilton) We have not commissioned anything.
85. You have not taken evidence from anybody
in the judiciary, the stipendiaries or the lay bench
(Mr Hamilton) No, that is not quite true. We did say
we took evidence from
86. Peter Crane, yes?
(Mr Hamilton)the police, the judge and from
the representatives of the justices' clerks and the judiciary.
87. Yes, the judiciary. So what can you tell
me about the link between class B drugs and crime?
(Mr Hamilton) What I will say to you is that there
is very scant evidence.
(Mr Hamilton) There is even less in the United Kingdom.
89. How do you know that?
(Mr Hamilton) Because there is not any to be found.
90. Have you
(Mr Hamilton) We have searched, I searched, we have
looked for it.
(Dame Ruth Runciman) Are you talking about the arrestee?
There are the Home Office arrestee figures about cannabis?
91. I am talking about the proportion of crime,
other than motoring, that is committed under the influence of
a class B drug?
(Dame Ruth Runciman) The only evidence we haveand
we looked at it, of courseis the Home Office research on
arrestee testing where large numbers of offenders test positive
for cannabis. What we do not know a lot about in this country
at the moment, and we certainly need to know, are the causal links
92. I suggest that if you knew anything about
the criminal justice system you might infer or understand that
a very high proportion of crime is committed by people who are,
at that time, under the influence of a class B drug?
(Dame Ruth Runciman) You are talking about cannabis
basically or amphetamines.
93. No, certainly not. Other class B drugs?
(Dame Ruth Runciman) Which ones, amphetamines?
94. Yes. Do you accept that?
(Mr Hamilton) No, I do not.
(Dame Ruth Runciman) We do not know.
95. Right. But you commend moving ecstasy and
LSD from class A to class B. Is that right?
(Dame Ruth Runciman) Yes.
96. Is it also right that you say that possession
of class B drugs which include ecstasy and LSD, amphetamines and
barbiturates should not carry a prison sentence. Is that right?
Do you believe that possession of those drugs that I have mentioned
is or is not as serious as offences of driving disqualified, minor
public order offences, common assault, all of which do carry a
custodial sentence. Do you think they are less serious than those?
(Dame Ruth Runciman) We do not think they are less
serious, we think that less good usefulness is done by the imposition
of a prison sentence for the simple possession of those drugs.
It is not a question of seriousness, it is a question of what
you aim to achieve by your penalty.
97. That is true, but to the sentencer seriousness
is a factor. What kind of message do you think you are sending
out if you are saying possession of ecstasy, LSD, amphetamines
and barbiturates should not carry a custodial sentence whereas
the offences I have mentioned do?
(Mr Hamilton) Sorry, that presumes that it would have
a positive effect
98. I am saying that
(Mr Hamilton) I am trying to pick up on your question.
If you are saying that a custodial sentence has a preventive effect
or that it deters, I do not think that is the case. I would suggest
to you that a person who takes drugs going into prison will come
out a worse addict.
99. That is quite beside the point. I am focusing
on the penalties available?
(Mr Hamilton) I have made my case in the sense that
I do not believe that a custodial sentence for small amounts of
those drugs that you have spoken about, for their own use, is
100. First or second time?
(Mr Hamilton) No, you are putting words into my mouth.
101. That was a question?
(Mr Hamilton) Okay. For a first offence I think it
is inappropriate to send a person to gaol for possession of small
amounts for their own use. As Dame Ruth has mentioned, we would
advocate that there would be a record kept of the instances where
cautions occur so that that would be put on the record. There
is no record at the moment.
102. Yes, I know. You think the power then to
send them to prison should be taken away, for class B drugs including
ecstasy and LSD?
(Mr Hamilton) Yes.
(Dame Ruth Runciman) For simple possession for their
own use, yes, we do. On the whole, at the moment, very few people
committing possession only offences of those class B drugs are
sent to prison
103. How many Courts have you sat in?
(Dame Ruth Runciman)as far as we can see.
104. Which Courts have you sat in to see that
happen or not happen?
(Dame Ruth Runciman) We have looked at the statistics
and in fact as far as one can seeand do not forget that
our recommendations, when it comes to the link as you talked about
between drugs and crime many of the people who are before the
Courts for possession offences are also before the Court for other
offences, often acquisitive offences. So in that sense the Courts
have the full range of powers that they require. We are talking
about possession only offences by people who are occasional users.
And there is a disagreement between us, but we are clear about
Chairman: Dame Ruth, may I thank you and your
colleagues for being so kind as to come this afternoon. I think
one of the things that all of us on this Committee like is that
this makes us think and we do not often get all the time we would
like to think in This Place. Thank you very much indeed. You have
been extremely helpful to us. A transcript will arrive in due
course for you to comment on, so thank you again.