Our Serious Crime Department has many years of experience in dealing with drug trafficking cases and other drugs offences such as the cultivation of cannabis or the supplying of drugs. Our lawyers have a wealth of experience in the field and have acted in some of the leading drugs cases brought in the UK.

These offences include:

  • Legal Highs & Psychoactive Substance Solicitors
  • Importation of controlled drugs
  • Supply (social and commercial)
  • Conspiracy to supply
  • Possession with intent to supply
  • Offering to supply
  • Manufacture
  • Cultivation

They are generally tried in the Crown Court because the Magistrates Sentencing Powers of 6 months per office is at present, normally insufficient.

Drugs Importation

It is common for officers at airports and other ports of entry to intercept people carrying controlled drugs in their luggage, clothing or inside their bodies on behalf of suppliers in foreign jurisdictions. The colloquial term for such people is ‘mule’. They may have been pressured into carrying the drugs or have done so for a fee, or both.

On occasion, large quantities are found, but sometimes it is merely the leftovers from a holiday or business trip abroad, maybe at a location where drug use is more widely tolerated by law enforcement.

Committing this offence can, however, result in severe consequences.

The crime

Drugs are brought into the jurisdiction in a number of supposedly ingenious ways. Cocaine may be moved in its liquid form while disguised as something else. Human carriers may swallow a number of pellets containing drugs of different kinds. Naturally, the police and associated organisations are frequently uncovering these methods as they arise, resulting in those who run the gauntlet being charged and sent to prison for a significant term despite initially thinking they have outwitted their opponents.

The law

The underlying offence is breaching the prohibition on the importation and exportation of controlled drugs created by section 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. This prohibition is paired with the substantive offence which is contained in section 170 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.


Various factors will alter the sentence imposed upon someone who either pleads guilty or is found guilty of this offence. These include the role played by the individual in the activity, the amount and character of the substance in question and (as with almost every offence) their level of co-operation with the police.

The sentences here are generally heavy, prison almost always follows for even the smallest quantity of drug, and sentences of 10 – 20 years, or more, are common where the quantity is large.

There are however a large number of factors that might reduce the seriousness of the offence or provide valuable mitigation – it is essential that a solicitor explore these on your behalf.


The maximum penalties for this offence vary depending on the type of drugs in question:

  • Class A, life imprisonment;
  • Class B and C, 14 years’ imprisonment;

Case studies

In Gregory [2012] EWCA Crim 649, the appellant’s sentence of imprisonment was reduced from 8 years to 6 years as the original sentence did not sufficiently reflect the appellant’s relatively minor role and the fact that he believed he was carrying cannabis rather than cocaine.

Conversely, the appellant in Burns [2009] EWCA Crim 1123 received an increased sentence upon a reference by the Attorney-General, from 8 years to 14 years’ imprisonment, to better reflect the fact that he had abused his professional role as a distribution supervisor by allowing cocaine importations.

There is a comprehensive sentencing guideline that Judges use in order to decide sentence.


The Sentences that the courts impose vary depending upon the offence, the role played, the quantity of drugs offered, the number of transactions, the purity of the drugs and previous convictions.

Cannabis, heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, amphetamine, prescription drugs and “legal highs” all carry their own level of the sentence.

Please contact us with details of the allegation and we will, of course, advise as to the possible sentences that the court may impose. It is possible in certain circumstances to argue for a suspended sentence, depending upon the above factors. For example, if the court is satisfied that you had bought the drugs as part of a pooled purchase with friends, or that you were distributing drugs on behalf of someone else in order to feed your own habit, the court may be more lenient. We have represented a number of clients successfully in these circumstances.

Fighting your case

Often the police infer that simply because you are in possession of a larger than normal quantity of controlled drugs you are a dealer. Weighing scales, small bags or quantities of cash also allow police to infer that you may be involved in drug supply. Similarly, if you are in telephone contact with others known to be dealing it might be assumed that you are part of a conspiracy. We will work with you to focus on the evidence and ensure these assumptions are challenged, it may be that we have to analyse 100s or 1000s of text messages to “tell the story”; it may necessary for us to instruct on your behalf, an independent expert witness to assess the value and purity of the drugs in question and consider whether it is what the prosecution says it is. We may need to trace and interview witnesses who can give evidence to support your defence that you are not a drug dealer or that you purchased the drugs in larger quantity for economic reasons. There are many variables and we are happy to discuss the approach with you.

We offer free and independent legal advice and assistance at the police station. We can be called to attend 24/7 in emergencies or we can arrange an appointment for you to attend the police station at a mutually convenient time. We often represent clients at the police station, who may have been arrested for being in possession with intent to supply, the advice provided can often lead to reduced charges or a caution.

If you are charged with a drugs offence you will always appear in The Magistrate’s Court and your case could conclude in the Crown Court depending upon the seriousness of the allegation and the quantities involved. See our guide on going to court for further info.

If you are convicted of selling or being concerned in the supply of drugs, the prosecution may apply for your assets to be confiscated as it may be the view that you financially benefitted from crime.

How we can help

If you want to discuss alleged offences relating to the importation of controlled drugs, please contact Jonathan Black or James Skelsey on 0207 837 3456

Such offences are always serious, and expert representation at the earliest stage is highly desirable, particularly if you may have acted under duress and have the basis of a defence in law. Sadly, we see many already very vulnerable people caught up in drug importation – it is essential that your story is told.

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