What are the consequences of drug trafficking in the UK?

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Nick Titchener

Managing Partner


Drug trafficking is an expansive term and this area of the law is extremely complex. Whether you are charged with possession, supply, large scale commercial distribution or production of illegal drugs or psychoactive substances, the consequences will inevitably impact on many aspects of your life and freedom.

The prices of controlled drugs charged at street level in the UK are some of the highest in Europe, which means that the UK illegal drugs market is extremely attractive to criminals. The commercial distribution of drugs is by far the most lucrative stage in the process from the cultivation and production of the illicit drug to the point of final consumption, but if you are found guilty the penalties are harsh and the consequences life changing.

The punishment for – and subsequent consequences of – drug trafficking will depend on aggravating factors including:

  • The defendant’s culpability and harm associated with the offence
  • The quantity and type of drug involved

Supplying a small amount of a Class C drug on a recreational basis could simply result in a fine, whilst the importation or supply of very large quantities of cocaine or other Class A drugs could result in a prison sentence well in excess of 10-20 years, or even a life sentence.

Other factors will be deliberated too. If you are found guilty of dealing or supplying drugs near a school or youth facility, the court will treat this as an aggravating factor and the judge is likely to impose a higher penalty for the offence. Whether you are given a fine or a prison sentence, the punishment will have severe implications for the future.

Being found guilty of a drug trafficking offence will result in a criminal record. This can impact many areas of your life including:

  1. Employment

    A criminal record can be detrimental to your current and future employment. If you receive a custodial sentence for drug offences such as trafficking, dismissal from your current employer is extremely likely as you will no longer be able to perform your contractual duties. Potential employers may carry out Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks on job applications, but if you are not specifically asked about previous convictions there is generally no legal obligation to disclose them. Furthermore, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act states that all cautions and convictions may eventually become spent – with the exception of prison sentences of over four years – and all public protection sentences regardless of the length of time. Several professions including doctors, solicitors and teachers are exempt from the Act and a criminal record will severely affect the likelihood of employment.
  2. Education

    A criminal record may stop you from enrolling on a course at the university of your choice, as many universities will ask you to declare any criminal convictions on your application and consider this separately from your academic achievements. The nature of the offence, the time that has elapsed since the offence was committed and the potential impact on fellow students and staff will all be considered. Some universities and educational facilities will refuse applications on the grounds of the crime committed.
  3. Travel

    A criminal record may cause you difficulties when travelling abroad. Some countries have strict entry requirements and restrictions and will not even let you into the country as a tourist if you have a criminal record.

    A criminal record can also impact upon mortgage applications and insurance policies, plus there are  considerable potential psychological implications for many.

Confiscation proceedings following a drug trafficking conviction

Once a case of drug trafficking has concluded and the defendant has been convicted of a offence relating to the supply of drugs, confiscation related proceedings are likely to follow. Due to the large amounts of money associated with the illegal drugs market, it is assumed that those involved will have made considerable sums of money from their prohibited activity.

The proceeds of any criminal activity involving drugs can be the subject of confiscation proceedings, whereby the prosecution request the court to seize and forfeit money, property, houses or possessions that it is felt were earned through the proceeds of the illegal supply of drugs. This can be devastating for the families of those affected by these far-reaching proceedings. The law surrounding confiscation proceedings is complex and technical and can extend the lifespan of a case by many months.

Decisions and even sometimes the outcome of the confiscation hearing is determined by how the original case was dealt with. For this reason it is essential that an experienced legal expert should deal with the case from the outset, so that a complete grasp can be had of all the issues, not just those immediately facing the accused.

The complexity of the law and consideration of many aggravating factors means that the consequences of drug trafficking vary with every case. Expert legal advice is required to ensure your case is considered in detail and that the most favourable outcome is obtained on your behalf. Get in touch with our team of specialist drug crime solicitors who can provide essential advice and assistance.

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