Each year, thousands of people are prosecuted in England and Wales for drug possession. Laws from Release have now published a new mobile and tablet app called Legal Aide that aims to help these people. The app contains a guide to assist people who are facing drugs charges.
The guide within the app instructs those facing these charges on what to say and what not to say whilst in a police station or in court.
Many people make statements whilst in a police station or in court that leads to their conviction. The app aims to prevent these people from making unnecessary or avoidable omissions to prevent them from being prosecuted in the first instance.
Sometime a prosecution may be unavoidable. In such circumstances, the app aims to help those affected to avoid or mitigate charges and thus receive the best possible result.
Data published by the Office of National Statistics reveal thousands of people are still being prosecuted for possessing small quantities of controlled substances. In 2016 alone, 23,000 people were convicted for such ‘crimes’. 95% of people found with small quantities of controlled drugs were prosecuted.
This situation is believed to be worsened by cuts to legal aid. These cuts mean many people found in possession of small quantities of controlled drugs are required to represent themselves in court without the benefit of a lawyer. Put simply, if you cannot afford to pay for legal representation, you will simply represent yourself. This is strong evidence that poor people now face disproportionate legal consequences for minor drug offences.
If you plead guilty, you may still receive a substantially reduced sentence if you are able to prove mitigating circumstances. Those lacking a criminal law background will simply not understand this fact. The app produced by Release aims to educate this mass of people who must now represent themselves for minor possession charges.
If you are found in possession of a small quantity of cannabis for the first time, you are eligible to receive a cannabis warning. However, thousands of people are totally unaware of this rule meaning many of these people are accepting a caution or conviction. A cannabis warning will not have any long-term consequence for these people in terms of applying for a visa or applying for a job, whilst a caution or conviction will bear long-term consequences.
This lack of legal aid for simple drug possession is also believed to disproportionately affect those with mental health problems or those who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction. Why? Because these people are highly unlikely to be capable of competently representing themselves in a court of law.
Release say they aim to reduce this inequality by publishing this app. The app also aims to reduce the harm caused by the criminalisation of drug possession. Within the UK, Release is a well-established pressure group that aims to end the criminalisation of drug possession, and this view is shared by Ahalia. Release campaigns the UK Government to adopt a similar approach that is currently in force in Portugal where possession for all controlled drugs has been decriminalised for well over a decade.
You may download this free app from on Android and Apple devices.