Letter: Sentencing and treatment of drug couriers in Britain and abroad

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Sir: Justice is pleased to see your leading article of 22 July taking up the issue of men and women serving long sentences in British prisons for acting as drug couriers. Our 1991 report, Drugs and the Law, considered the objects of sentencing. Within the last three years, 84 foreign nationals in British jails have written to us seeking help to challenge their sentences or convictions; 40 are serving sentences of 10 years or more.

The courts have put drug smugglers into a special category where personal circumstances are not taken into account when passing sentence. Indeed, sentences of between five and 10 years are frequently passed after court proceedings of five or 10 minutes. The quantity and value of the drugs and the method of concealment are all that concern the court, unless the courier has been able to give useful information to the Customs. However, so lowly is their position in the enterprise, and so great their fear of the organisers, that they can rarely provide themselves with this mitigation.

Ignorant (sometimes illiterate), driven by personal circumstances that are ruled irrelevant to their plight, they endure a cruel and unusual punishment.

Yours faithfully,


Justice (British Section of the International Commission of Jurists)

London, WC2

22 July

The writer is a member of the Justice committee on drugs and the law.