Doctor’s son Edward Holland, BSc MSc and PhD to be, had been a cannabis user since the age of 16, and now at 24 he diversified into supplying it and offering to supply cocaine too, in fairly small amounts, making up to £200 per week for four months. Described in court by his barrister as a “high flyer” (please tell me he did see the joke in that), the judge suspended a 12 month custodial sentence because, as he put it, You are clearly a highly intelligent young man and you have a choice about the direction your life may take. You can choose to become a successful scientist with all the rewards that may bring. Or you can become a drug dealer and serve increasingly long sentences in jail.
All drug suppliers have choices so that itself doesn’t make his case any different. The difference must be that the judge thought Holland was clever enough to make the correct choice whereas other suppliers, who may be less intelligent and not as well educated, would make the wrong choice. But a spell in prison for them would increase the chances that they make the wrong choice when they are released.
The decision doesn’t stand up to logical analysis and, whilst I have no wish to see the biochemistry star go to prison, high education and intelligence cannot be a mitigation of the offence; if anything it makes it worse.
New guidelines on sentencing for drug crime have been produced by the Sentencing Council and are under consultation. The proposed new starting point for supply of even a very small quantity of cocaine is a lengthy spell in prison, even when taking into account the early guilty plea and no previous convictions. The Sentencing Council does not mention education or intelligence as reason for suspending a sentence, but it was a reasonable judgement to do so.
The unfairness is on those who will not be given that privilege but, despite not having a degree or two, might also have taken positive advantage of a second chance and changed their lives. We will never know. Suspending prison sentences is more an art than a science and needs a more consistent basis of application. Meanwhile, Edward is a very lucky young man indeed.