EDITORIAL: Drugs Act should contain a charity health warning

The case of the "Cambridge Two", in which two of the staff of the homelessness charity Wintercomfort were sent to jail for allowing the supply of hard drugs at one of the charity's centres, forced many organisations to change their rules and policies. After intensive campaigning the two were released but it seems that the Government has not learned anything from this case.

New guidance from the Home Office on the Misuse of Drugs Act places a duty on social housing landlords and other organisations which may work with drug addicts and homeless people to prevent the use as well as supply of drugs on their premises.

Many people would see this as entirely reasonable. Drugs such as heroin destroy lives and communities. They are illegal and why should the law be different in a homelessness centre than on the street.

If only life were that simple. There are several problems with the Home Office's new guidance, which is out for consultation until 8 November.

One is that it draws charity workers into acting as an arm of law enforcement, informing the police whenever they suspect drug use on their premises.

A failure to do so could expose individuals to prosecution. But obeying the law will break the trust built between staff and clients, essential to helping drug users take control of their lives. As a result of this legislation many organisations will have to stop working with known drug users, leaving them out on the streets.

The draft guidance leaves the question of whether to prosecute entirely up to the discretion of local police forces. Charities' work with drug users will rely entirely on a local and potentially unpredictable "arrangement" with local police. If the police force in that area support your work, good, if not, tough. One of the principles of justice is that the law is applied consistently. The situation the Home Office proposes is simply unjust.

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