Changing the rules*

How much cannabis is too much for one person? Can you safely shoot a stranger in court? Let the <em>

Every now and then, I start to panic that the police are about

to smash my door down. It’s weird, since they never have, but if they did, hypothetically, and happened to find some cannabis, what would it mean? The drug laws always seem to be changing. It’s doing my head in.

Perplexed, Luton

As you seem partially to recall, cannabis was downgraded from a class B to a class C drug in January 2004. Ownership of a single joint can still theoretically earn you two years in jail, but the Association of Chief Police Officers has advised its members that "simple possession" should always be dealt with by way of a warning.

The factors that make possession "simple" are highly complex, however - and their intricacies have only multiplied since David Blunkett left the Home Office. Charles Clarke initially contemplated reversing the reforms. He then called for "a massive programme of public education" to warn people that the drug downgraded by his predecessor was liable to cause schizophrenia and psychosis. Its reclassification, he warned, was liable to produce "widespread confusion".

A coherent strategy seems finally to be emerging from the haze. Sadly for you, it leaves the heady liberalism of David Blunkett far behind. The Drugs Act 2005 stipulates that if someone is caught with more than a certain amount of cannabis, juries must find him or her guilty of intending to supply it - a crime punishable by 14 years imprisonment. The threshold remains undecided, but John Reid is reportedly thinking of setting it at five grams. Clearer heads may yet prevail, but a fifth of an ounce will otherwise become conclusive proof of dealing.

Your fears, though somewhat delusionary, therefore have a basis in reality, and it would be prudent to minimise the weight of cannabis in your possession at any given time. You should also try to remember that the police have no automatic right to enter private premises. Unless you invite officers to conduct a raid - and I would urge caution in that regard - they always require a warrant. If security features are in place, they may also require a battering ram. Just don't get too paranoid.

I want to shoot some scenes at the local crown court for a video project, but I’ve been told there are rules against filming. If I pixelate people’s heads to make them unidentifiable, is it safe to go ahead anyway?

Zack Barowitz, London

I am sorry to say that it is not. Photography in the vicinity of a court building in England or Wales has been unlawful since 1925, regardless of its actual effects on the administration of justice. Though media organisations ignore the law with impunity, the authorities are free to clamp down on lesser violators, as and when arbitrary enforcement strikes them as appropriate.

Surreptitious filming inside a courtroom is even more likely to get you punished, and innocent intentions are no defence here, either. A solicitor's clerk who smuggled a canister of laughing gas into St Albans Crown Court in 1974, for example, received a six-month jail term, notwithstanding that his only purpose was to "liven it up". Most judges would be as hostile to cinematic intrusions as gaseous ones, and your willingness to pixelate heads, though considerate, would very probably fail to placate their concerns.

All in all, your best hope lies in a plea to the Lord Chancellor, who, for complex constitutional reasons, is allowed to disregard the 1925 law. Send your entreaty to Lord Falconer of Thoroton at Selborne House, 54-60 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QW.

Sadakat Kadri is a barrister and author of "The Trial: a history from Socrates to O J Simpson" (Harper Perennial, 2006). Send your civil liberties and human-rights dilemmas to: Changing the Rules, New Statesman, 52 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1W 0AU. This column appears fortnightly

Next Article