Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Justice: Flickr CC, Jim Larrison

Consultation on motoring offences review to start before Christmas

After two years where nothing has happened, with the Government’s long awaited motoring offences and penalties review stalled in first gear, we might at last have some answers about what it will look at, and a date for its publication.

When is a promise a commitment?

For over two years Cycling UK has been reporting on the frustrating lack of progress with the Government’s review of driving offences and penalties, promised by the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling MP back in May 2014 (n.b. he is now Transport Secretary). Transforming a promise into a reality however requires commitment, without which a promise is merely a hope or aspiration.

The announcement of a full review “over the next few months”, with plans to change the law “shortly”, and assurances that changes were “expected to be implemented in early 2015”, were replete with empty rhetoric. For 29 months the Government's commitment to turning their promise into action has been paper-thin.

First gear review

Repeated questions from various MPs have elicited Ministerial assurances that officials were working on the review “in earnest”, that the public consultation would commence “soon” and would be “widely publicised”. Similar evasive responses followed in the House of Lords, but there was deafening silence as to the remit of the review, whether it would include all offences or be limited to the most serious, and when something, anything, might actually happen. 

The review was first promised by Grayling, who was replaced as Justice Secretary a year later by Michael Gove. After two years of waiting for Grayling and Gove to move out of first gear the review out-lived another Minister, with Gove giving way to another Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss in the post Brexit re-shuffle in July.

Hoping that this might finally spark some life into this slumbering review Cycling UK wrote to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) following Truss’s appointment. The result was officials from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) agreeing to meet with Cycling UK last Friday, and at last a few answers.

Timescale and remit

Contrary to previous suggestion that the review might form part of a wider sentencing review, Cycling UK was told there will be a review looking specifically at motoring offences and penalties, with a public consultation beginning before Christmas, and an intention to bring legislation before parliament in 2017. 

Cycling UK was told the review will focus on the most serious offences involving injury or death to other road users. We have long campaigned for a review of the legislation concerning dangerous and careless driving, as changes are needed to avoid the current inconsistencies in charging decisions and how standards of poor driving are assessed and dealt with. We are delighted that this will be a key part of the promised review, which we have reliably been informed will also consider issues concerning sentencing and driving disqualification in such cases.

Limitations of the review

According to officials, currently the MOJ do not propose to review the use of disqualification for non-imprisonable offences, or the exceptional hardship legislation, which enables drivers who have acquired 12 or more penalty points on their licence within three years to avoid loosing their licence under the totting up provisions. This is disappointing but we will continue to raise our concerns on this at each appropriate opportunity. 

The abuse of the exceptional hardship plea was tragically demonstrated recently with the death of cyclist Lee Martin.The texting driver who killed Lee, ChristopherGard, had been stopped for using his mobile phone whilst driving on eight previous occasions. Six weeks before Gard drove into Lee, he had persuaded Magistrates to let him keep his licence because of the hardship to his family if he lost his licence

The distinction between what is truly exceptional, and the forseeable inconvenience which follows the loss of a licence for repeat offending is constantly blurred by the courts, and needs to be urgently reviewed. Cycling UK will continue to press for this to be included within the review, but currently this is not the MOJ's intention.

Possibilities

As the review is being framed to deal with offences causing injury or harm, Cycling UK discussed with the MOJ the current legislation concerning "car dooring", the consequences of which were horrifically highlighted when a taxi passenger opened their door into the path of cyclist and Leicester school teacher Sam Boulton in July. Our comments on this and other issues, such as failure to stop in cases involving collisions where injuries are caused, appeared to be taken on board. There may therefore be opportunities to raise these and other issues within the review, notwithstanding what appears to be the MOJ's intention to limit the review's remit. 

Are the groundhog days gone?

After 29 months of frustration and not much progress, the news that this review should actually commence imminently, that it will look at the careless and dangerous driving distinction and how bad driving offences are charged and sentenced, must be cautiously welcomed, even if we would like the review to have a wider scope. A glass half full is still better than an empty one.

We have however set out the chronology of disappointment and delay to date with this review, because encouraging words from the MOJ must be considered in that context. Hopefully the groundhog days of Grayling and Gove are now gone, and Truss will allow the MOJ to take the review of driving offences and sentences from concept to conclusion without further slippage. Over to you Elizabeth.

Timeline 

  • May 2014 – After campaigning from Cycling UK, Government announces full review of motoring offences and penalties to take place over the next few months.
  • December 2014 – Cycling UK met with Mike Penning MP, Minister of State for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims to set out our concerns and proposals. Penning said review could take up to a year.
  • May 2015 – Michael Gove MP replaced as Justice Secretary by Christopher Grayling MP. Following Cycling UK intervention, review promised "in due course".
  • September 2015 – Cycling UK briefed MPs raising questions regarding the delay in progressing the review during a Westminster Hall debate on dangerous driving. Review promised "soon".
  • July 2016 – Cycling UK briefed Peers to raising questions at a House of Lords debate regarding the delay in progressing the review. A consultation, but not the remit, was promised to commence before the end of the year. 
  • July 2016 – Christopher Grayling replaced by Elizabeth Truss MP as Justice Secretary (with Grayling becoming Transport Secretary).
  • July 2016 – Cycling UK wrote directly to Elizabeth Truss regarding the delayed review.
  • September 2016 - Cycling UK met with MOJ officials, who indicated the public consultation would commence before Christmas into serious driving offences.
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