Phone in Cessnock jail cell exposes law

Arrested: Police with one of six men arrested on serious drugs charges. Riad Taha was named as the drug syndicate’s mastermind.A SUCCESSFULappeal by a drug syndicate ringleader in Cessnock Jail has exposed a worrying gap in how NSW law can respondto security breaches by some of the state’s most serious criminals.

Riad Taha, 30, was behind a $600,000 syndicate that planned to sell methamphetamine, known as ice,cocaine and firearms into the community until its memberswere arrested and charged in 2015. He was sentenced to eight years in jail.

But Taha beat the system in April after a NSW District Court judge was forced to grant his appeal against an extra three months in jailafter Taha was convicted of a security breach. He was charged after he was found with a mobile phone, SIM card and charger in his Cessnock Jail cell during a random search in January.

The decision waspublished online on Tuesday.

NSW District Court Judge Andrew Colefax said he had to acceptTaha’s argument aLocal Court magistrate had no power to add the three months to his longer sentence for the drugs offences because of a section of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act.

The effect of the section meansthere is“effectively no punishment available” to the Local Court whereprisoners serving jail sentences of more than five years arecharged with security breaches, similar to the mobile phone breach, while in jail, Judge Colefax said.

“This seems to me to be a highly unsatisfactory situation because the more serious offenders face no real disincentive to engage in serious breaches of security in the correctional context,” the judge said.

“There is no disincentive for them to have possession of (at least) mobile phones which is a serious breachof correctional security.”

Taha was to have served an additional three months in jail to start on January 10, 2020, which Judge Colefax said “might be thoughtto constitute considerable leniency” given the seriousness of the security breach.

“As it is, and as the Crown has conceded, I have no alternative but to allow the appeal on the state of the current law,” Judge Colefax said.

“The appeal is, with regret, allowed.”

The judge referred the matter to Attorney General Mark Speakman and Corrective Services Minister David Elliott.