We need road crash victims' rights

CTC's Roger Geffen demanding more rights for victims at the Michael Mason vigil.
The insensitive treatment of Michael Mason's grieving family by the Metropolitan Police is representative of the experience of many road crash victims. CTC's Rhia Weston explains the need for the Victims Bill to enshrine the rights of those victimised by road crime.

The Metropolitan Police’s very public to-ing and fro-ing in the Michael Mason case has appalled many people, so much so that the fundraising appeal launched by the Cyclists’ Defence Fund to start a private prosecution of the driver involved received over £6,000 in the 24 hours and has now reached £21,000

Having to find out important information about a criminal case through a press release is highly inconsiderate; having to then find out again through the media that the information was wrong is downright unacceptable. Clearly, internal communication at the Met has gone awry.

However, the Met is not the only police force to show insensitivity to road crash victims. The Cyclists' Defence Fund  was recently contacted by a father whose 12-year-old son was killed whilst cycling in Leicestershire in July last year by a 70-year-old driver. The driver had overtaken two cars and a tractor on a 60mph country road before running into the back of the boy. From the beginning of the investigation, the police have told the parents that their son was probably at fault for his death without any evidence to back up this claim and the driver has not been prosecuted.

Lamentably, this insensitive victim-blaming is indicative of the poor treatment many victims of road crime receive at the hands of the justice system.

The information families receive is often fragmentary and delayed. They often hear at the eleventh hour about changes to a criminal case, such as a defendant's guilty plea or a hearing cancellation. During a trial, bereaved relatives sometimes have to sit in the same room as witnesses for the defence or members of the accused’s family.

Families bereaved by ‘careless drivers’ are not entitled to Victim Support’s Homicide Service, unlike those bereaved through murder, manslaughter and by dangerous drivers.

In cases where the police make a decision not to prosecute, bereaved families have no recourse for challenging that decision, whereas when the CPS make the decision they have rights to challenge it under the Victims' Right to Review Scheme.

A document called the Code of Practice for Victims' of Crime outlines the rights and entitlements of victims. Yet victims of road crashes where the driver was driving carelessly, had been drinking, or was speeding at the time of the collision are not included in this code. This means they do not have rights to information about how their case is being handled and often do not know if a driver has been charged or what for. Road crime victims are not even counted in official crime statistics.

The Victims’ Bill of Rights is currently working its way through parliament, and is due its second reading on 27 March. The aim of the Bill is to enhance the rights of victims of crime. This Bill is an opportunity to right the wrongs that have been committed against road crash victims by recognising all victims of lawbreaking on the roads as victims of crime and affording them the same rights as victims of other types of crime. 

CTC is seeking to collaborate with the road crash victims’ charity, RoadPeace, to use this Bill to reverse the discrimination of road crash victims.