Last week (30 November 2022), the Centre for Justice Innovation launched a new framework for the use of pre-court disposals for possession of drug cases. The framework, which is based on existing best practice was written in anticipation of significant changes that police forces are making to their use of pre-court disposals more generally, due to the changes to the adult formal, statutory out of court disposal framework as outlined in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.
The practice framework has three principal objectives:
- reduce the harms associated with drug misuse, including reducing drug related deaths;
- keep communities safer, by reducing re-offending and crime;
- reduce the costs to the criminal justice system of drug possession cases.
The key elements of the framework are summarised below; it has been designed to apply to both children and adults and aims to encourage a more consistent approach to how police services deal with drug possession cases across the country.
A presumption in favour of community diversion
In all instances, all individuals in contact with the police found in possession of a controlled drug should be, by default, eligible for a community diversion (rather than a formal, statutory out of court disposal). The framework recommends that all police forces should adopt a presumption that all such individuals are eligible for a community diversion (either a Community Resolution or No Further Action: Outcome 22, including all ages, and regardless of previous convictions for drug possession.
Once an individual has been found to be in possession of a controlled drug, all eligible individuals should be asked to accept a referral to a local drug support service. A formal admission of guilt should not be required. The framework recommends this should be recorded on the Police National Computer (PNC) and/or by the Youth Justice Service as either a Community Resolution or No Further Action: Outcome 22.
The framework recommends that police forces ensure that police officers have a very clear script to guide their conversation with eligible individuals. This should make clear that:
- Individuals will only be referred if they accept responsibility AND accept being referred to a local drug support service or the local youth justice service;
- The acceptance of responsibility is not a formal admission of guilt and consenting to the community diversion will significantly reduce the likelihood of this offence appearing on their criminal record in the future;
- The referral into services will lead to contact with a non-criminal justice agency to assess the individual (for adults) and to contact with the YJS (for children) who will offer voluntary interventions to help them with their drug use;
- Non-attendance at these interventions could mean that they are not eligible for a community diversion in the future for at least six months.
All eligible individuals under the age of 18 (on the day of the referral) should be referred to the relevant youth justice service, as per existing local youth diversion processes.
For eligible individuals aged 18 or over (on the day of the referral), police should refer them to a commissioned provider, who is able to provide drug assessment and interventions. This referral process should be as straightforward for police officers as possible, allowing for referrals in a range of settings, including on the street and in the custody suite.
Assessment & Intervention
The assessment should take a holistic view of the person’s drug and/or alcohol use and offer support and treatment on a voluntary basis if appropriate.
Where needed interventions should be relatively light touch, given the behaviour in question and the need to reduce the impact of labelling and to reduce contact with the criminal justice system. The focus of the interventions should be on harm reduction and drugs education.
Police officers will make clear that non-compliance with the assessment and interventions will be recorded and could make the individual ineligible for diversion in the future for a specified period (dependant on disposal/outcome used). Any decisions around enforcement or non-compliance related to a child should be made in partnership with the local YJS.
Where an individual’s case is dealt with by way of a Community Resolution, as this is a non-statutory disposal, any interventions agreed cannot be legally enforced or escalated to a higher disposal. The CR is a voluntary agreement and as such, the police have no powers to enforce it, should the individual fail to comply.
For those who case is dealt with by way of an NFA recorded as an Outcome 22, they must complete the diversionary activity. If they fail to complete this activity and the evidential threshold has been met the police have the power to enforce a formal disposal outcome.
Whether to use Community Resolutions or NFA Outcome 22 in the delivery of their drug diversion scheme is a decision for local police forces to make. The framework provides a useful table (based on NPCC guidance) to aid in this decision making.