Lord Chief Justice: Wealthy drug users should think about ‘huge social damage’

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Wealthy drug users should consider the “huge social damage” linked to their actions, the Lord Chief Justice has said.

Lord Burnett of Maldon, the head of the judiciary of England and Wales, disputed any suggestion that affluent people caught with class A substances should be viewed as “not very serious offenders”.

Earlier this year Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick hit out at middle class cocaine users who worry about issues like the environment but believe there is “no harm” in taking the drug.

Lord Burnett said: “I speak to the Commissioner from time to time, so these are topics that we have discussed.

“She’s obviously absolutely right in her observations which were directed at affluent drug users, principally.

“That they should bear very much in mind the huge social damage that they are doing further down the chain.

“She had in mind all the county lines problems that we have at the moment, where particularly young, vulnerable kids are being used to run drugs all over the country.”

Speaking at a press conference in London, Lord Burnett said there is an “interesting difference of view” on sentencing.

He said: “On the one hand one hears all the time from some people ‘well, you should be focusing only on the drug suppliers and not on the drug users’. That’s usually the chorus that is heard.

“Now there is a growing recognition that the users perhaps should be looked at in a less benign way.

“I think it’s important to look at all cases individually. But if ever it was thought, for example, that affluent people caught with class A drugs should be viewed as really not very serious offenders, I certainly don’t agree with that.”

Ms Dick’s remarks in the summer followed similar interventions by London mayor Sadiq Khan and Justice Secretary David Gauke.

In October, Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced a review into who is buying illicit substances as well as selling them as part of the Government’s efforts to clamp down on serious violence.

Latest figures indicate that cocaine use among people from wealthier homes in England and Wales is at its highest in nearly a decade.

In 2017/18, 3.4% of 16 to 59-year-olds living in households with an income of at least £50,000 reported taking the drug in powder form during the last year.

The percentage was the highest recorded since 3.8% in 2008/09.

Focus on the issue has intensified after a surge in violent offending, with particular concern about knife crime following a spate of fatal stabbings.

Lord Burnett confirmed that a rising number of knife-related cases are coming through the courts.

He said: “A distressingly large proportion of those cases involve young people or children.”

While more offenders are receiving custodial sentences and the penalties increasing in length, he stressed that sentencing is “only a very small part of any solution”.

Lord Burnett said: “We as a society have got to come to terms with the fact that an increasing number of people, particularly young people, are carrying knives as a matter of habit.

“Carrying knives as a matter of habit often for, as is described, protection, leads people then to use them in circumstances which they wouldn’t otherwise do. That’s a cultural problem.

“There is undoubtedly increasing violence centring around drug trafficking, which is another underlying problem which society has got to grapple with.”

In other comments, the Lord Chief Justice said there was “no doubt” that the use of social media has “changed the way a lot of people behave”, describing some of the abuse “hurled” at politicians as “utterly unbelievable”.

On the question of whether social media companies should be subject to regulations, he said it was not for him to give any indication of “policy views”, but he suggested a “global response” was needed rather than “simply a domestic one”.

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