Call for justice review comes just as Crown Prosecution Guidance consults

Old Bailey (Photo by Ben Sutherland)

Call for justice review comes just as Crown Prosecution Guidance consults

This week British Cycling increased pressure on the Government to review the way criminal justice treats road crash victims, securing an agreement to meet and discuss the issue. Meanwhile the Crown Prosecution Service are consulting on their guidance for prosecuting bad driving.

British Cycling have stepped up their campaign for a review of traffic justice, following high profile cases of injustice earlier this year. CTC joined in the campaign urging MPs to sign up to an Early Day Motion (EDM) demanding a review of road traffic justice.

In a debate in Parliament this week, the Justice Minister, Helen Grant, offered to meet with British Cycling to discuss the situation, in response to a plea from Ian Austin MP, chair of the All Party Cycling Group, and Ben Bradshaw MP.

British Cycling has called on the Ministry of Justice to start a review, but despite repeated letters and 78 MPs signing an EDM in favour, British Cycling has had no response. Will the Minister undertake a review of the justice system, to ensure the punishment fits the crime and, more importantly, to deter drivers from engaging in the stupid and dangerous driving that puts cyclists and other road users at risk?

Ian Austin MP 

Careless or dangerous - the CPS decides

While sentencing is deeply flawed, it is choice of offence which often lies at the heart of the problem. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is currently consulting on guidance for prosecuting cases of bad driving. It is the CPS which decides which offence is used - and it is the offence chosen which usually determines how severe the punishment is.

Ever since the 2006 Road Safety Act created a new offence of 'causing death by careless driving', CTC has been tracking cases of road death, noting that the proportion of offenders being imprisoned in such cases has fallen dramatically. It is CTC's view that far too many cases which should be considered as 'dangerous' are being downplayed as merely 'careless', in order to secure an easy conviction.

Whereas 20% of offenders convicted of 'causing death by careless driving' are imprisoned, that figure rises to 94% for 'causing death by dangerous driving'. CTC does not want to see all drivers going to prison, but we do think that the CPS should treat dangerous driving as dangerous, not simply careless. 

In 2007 CTC challenged the CPS's guidance on the same matter, urging that the threshold for 'careless driving' be raised considerably. Our legal challenge was blocked, but the principle remains clear - 'dangerous', according to the law should mean driving that "falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous." 

Presently the guidance states that the following can be considered 'careless driving':

  • emerging from a side road into the path of another vehicle;
  • tuning a car radio;
  • using a hand-held mobile phone or other hand-held electronic equipment when the driver was avoidably distracted by that use; and
  • selecting and lighting a cigarette or similar when the driver was avoidably distracted by that use.

CTC will be suggesting that most of these should only be considered as 'dangerous' behaviour, not careless. Too often cases are downgraded to 'careless' in order to secure convictions. However, treating dangerous driving as merely 'careless' will lead to a gradual downgrading of all bad driving offences, with minor misbehaviour going unpunished altogether.

Since the new offence of 'causing death by careless driving' came in to effect the number of cases of 'causing death by dangerous driving' have fallen from 276 convictions in 2007 to 126 in 2011, yet last year 248 people were convicted of 'causing death by careless driving', suggesting that many cases that would previously been dealt with as 'dangerous' have slipped down to 'careless'.

See CTC's original response to the 2007 consultation below.



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