19 January 2009

Cannabis Fines - Home Office Misleads regarding Consultation

No Consultation on PNDs for Cannabis Possession despite Home Office Assurance.

In October 2008, in their press release entitled "Tougher Action on Cannabis" the Home Office said that prior to Penalty Notices For Disorder (PNDs) being introduced, consultation would take place.

They said "Under penalty notice for disorder proposals, on which the Ministry of Justice (new window) will shortly run a consultation."

We wrote to the Ministry of Justice in November asking when this consultation would be taking place. A long period of silence followed.

Last week we finally received a reply from the MoJ saying that no consultation would take place, and suggesting that responsibilty for this lay with the Home Office. They said:

"Possession of cannabis is included on a list of proposed new offences drawn from a longer list on which we consulted stakeholders in 2006. The Government decided that the PND should be available to officers, subject to Parliamentary approval, on re-classification of the drug to Class B on 26 January 2009. In the light of this decision, it has not been possible to carry out a full consultation."

This response is astonishing. The Home Office clearly stated a consultation would take place. This would have been an opportune time to explore how impractical the introduction of PNDs would be, what safeguards would need to be in place, and give stakeholders a chance to comment and critique the proposal.

In 2006, a small scale MoJ consultation looked at adding certain offences to those which could be dealt with by PNDs. However, this consultation was restricted to ACPO, Justices and Magistrates Associations but not the public.

In the Explanatory Notes which accompanied the Criminal Justice and Police Act Ammendment (2009) which included adding cannabis to the list of PND offences the MoJ said:

"More recently, Departments with substantive policy responsibility for the various offences now being added have conducted consultations with their own stakeholders Therefore, although
there has been no formal public consultation, all those most involved and affected have had ample opportunity to make their views known."

So in effect the MoJ are saying that, as far as they are concerned, the Home Office consulted their Stakeholders regarding PNDs for Cannabis. And the Home Office said the MoJ would consult.

More worryingly, these proposals were never debated in Parliament. The Statement made by the Home Secretary on the 7th May 2008 made no mention of PNDs. They were mentioned in Written Answers in October 2008, and again they were mentioned in the Lord's Debate on the subject in November 2008.

Th upshot of this has been the introduction of PNDs never taken before the House of Commons, and no public consultation on the subject - just a RIA which was not available when the proposal went before the Commons.

Conspiracy or confusion? Who knows. The end result is the same.

January 2009

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