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Drugs


21st June 2004

The statutory instrument adds eight trigger offences to those provided for by schedule 6 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000.

The statutory instrument adds eight trigger offences to those provided for by schedule 6 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. If, subject to certain conditions, a person has committed a trigger offence, the court has the authority to make drug abstinence orders, including drug abstinence provisions in community punishment orders and community rehabilitation orders, and in notices of supervision for young offenders. Also, if a person has committed a trigger offence, the police make take a sample from them to ascertain whether a class A drug has been taken and a drug test may be taken as a condition of release on licence.

The order is uncontroversial and we do not oppose it. I agree that more action needs to be taken to tackle crimes people commit to feed a drug habit, and also to limit drug abuse in our communities. I agree with the Minister when she said that the order will help to provide a tailored approach to the problem.

In my constituency, the local police have advised me that the majority of property crimes are now heroin-related. The concept of bringing treatment or testing for drugs into the overall equation of dealing with related crimes seems eminently sensible. However, will the Minister tell us why the provisions were not included in schedule 6 of the 2000 Act when it was originally passed? Was that an oversight, or did a subsequent event or research initiate the proposals in the order?

Will the minister tell us how many drug abstinence orders have been given out by the courts and how many drug abstinence provisions have already been included in community rehabilitation orders and notices of supervision for young offenders since the implementation of the 2000 Act? That issue was partly addressed by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who wanted to know to what extent the provisions had already been used, perhaps thinking that there was a conflict between the existing law and the proposals. Could it be that the court services intended to use the provisions in situations in which the powers did not exist, and so there was no gap that needed to be plugged? I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say. I would like some further details of how the provisions are currently working, given that that is the base on which the order will build.

Will the Minister please clarify whether the new drug abstinence orders can be used by magistrates after the accused has been arrested or charged, but before their trial in the magistrates court? Could that stop some criminals who simply continue taking drugs and committing crimes to pay for them following their arrest, as though nothing has happened?

I note that the orders applies to class A drugs, but what if someone commits a crime while under the influence of a non-class A drug, such as alcohol? Would it not make sense to enable the court to ban people from consuming alcohol? Look at what has been going on recently with the yob culture-for example, rioting football hooligans-that the newspaper report daily. The power might be useful to the courts, but perhaps it already exists in other legislation that the Minister could remind me of.

Having asked those few questions, we will not oppose the order.



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