Pubdate: Tue, 28 Sept 1999
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: Guardian Media Group 1999
Author: (1) Mark Freeman; (2) David Enright


* It is undeniable that a link exists between illegal drugs and crimes
such as burglary and mugging, but the extent and nature of the
connection is far less clear than government spokesmen suggest (Police
to get new drug test powers, September 27). The article refers to home
office research indicating that in five inner-city areas 61% of all
those arrested had taken at least one illegal drug. However, at most,
only 28% of that 61% involved heroin or cocaine. That would suggest
that about 17% of crimes involved criminals who had recently taken
heroin or cocaine.

This would, presumably, have included a considerable number caught in
possession rather than in crimes against innocent people and their
property. It is also impossible to know whether drugs were just
incidental to the crime. So the number of crimes committed against
people or property as a result of drug use might not be as great as
the government suggests.

The draconian measures being proposed are in response to a genuine
concern among the electorate about the high levels of crime such as
theft and burglary. But while the proposed measures may have some
small effect in reducing such crime, will they justify the huge
administrative cost to the police and prison services? And will they
justify a considerable erosion of our civil liberties?

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* Clearly there is a link between the use of certain drugs and crime.
However, there is also a strong link between poverty, age, gender and
crime. As a solicitor I am deeply concerned at the proposal to
introduce drug testing for criminal suspects and that information then
being used to deny bail.

I believe police officers, often with the best intentions, would use
such a tool to apply unlawful pressure upon suspects to make
confessions. An officer dealing with a known drug user could quite
clearly threaten a suspect with incarceration without trial for up to
a year, whether guilty or not, on the basis that they will be denied
bail on the results of a drug test. Many people are remanded in
custody for up to a year before trial, although one-third of those
will be found not guilty. Given such a stark choice, I believe that
vulnerable persons will confess to offences, whether guilty or not.
This proposed measure is an attack upon the most basic legal rights:
the right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty and the
presumption of bail. Should this be introduced, it will undoubtedly
lead to serious and widespread abuse of criminal suspects.

St Albans

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