Still no date for Dangerous Driving sentencing review

Jim Trodel Creative Commons

Still no date for Dangerous Driving sentencing review

Government response to Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday evening still refuses to announce when we can expect the Dangerous Driving sentencing review

On Tuesday afternoon Reading West MP Alok Sharma initiated a Westminster Hall debate on the sentencing of Dangerous Driving Offences.

Sharma’s purpose behind the debate was to press for a change in the law to toughen sentences for dangerous driving. This followed the tragic incident where two of his constituents, John Morland and Kris Jarvis, were killed while cycling by driver Alexander Farrar Walteron 13 February 2014.

Traditionally lacking in a large attendance, this Westminster Hall debate was well attended by over 10 MPs who made interesting contributions to the debate. The main concerns focussed on when the Government intended to launch its review of sentencing and what opportunities there would be for consultation.

Other notable points were raised by Ben Bradshaw MP for Exeter and Leeds North West representative Greg Mulholland MP. Bradshaw, who made several interjections, said that the legal system and drivers needed to recognise that when they get behind the wheel of  a car, they are “in charge of a lethal weapon”. Mulholland, echoing CTC’s Road Justice campaign, also highlighted that the Crown Prosecution Service will sometimes choose to go for the lesser charge of careless driving, rather than dangerous driving.

The Government response to the debate was made by Victims Minister Mike Penning MP, who welcomed the debate and gave his support for the topic to be brought before a Backbench Business Committee.

Penning made it clear that he found the current practice of a driving ban running concurrent with a prison sentence as “completely perverse”, and that this situation would change outside of the sentencing review with the ban starting when the offender had finished their prison sentence.

When pressed on whether the Minister agreed that offenders should in the worst cases face a life driving ban, Penning argued that this would not be possible.

Citing the needs for driving to work in rural communities, the Minister explained that when someone had served their sentence it was his view that they should not become a burden on the state through an inability to work.

The courts need to be much more willing to use long driving bans as a sentencing option, with long custodial sentences being reserved for really serious cases – like that of Alexander Farrar Walter – where there is a significant risk of the driver re-offending. This approach ensures public protection, as well as providing a strong deterrent to prevent bad driving occurring in the first place.”
Roger Geffen
Campaigns and Policy Director

Unsurprisingly, the Minister did not use the opportunity of the debate to announce when the sentencing review would begin, but did make it clear that victims’ families would play an important part in the consultation process.

Commenting on the debate Roger Geffen, CTC's Campaigns and Policy Director, said:

“Driving is unique among day-to-day activities, in that a momentary lapse of attention can lead to another person being killed or maimed. CTC’s Road Justice campaign believes the legal system needs to reinforce the responsibilities of drivers for the safety of other road users - particularly pedestrians and cyclists - while recognising that jurors will sometimes be reluctant to convict drivers for crimes they know they could easily have committed themselves.  That's why it's so important that the courts should make far greater use of long driving bans, as well as long prison sentences in the most serious cases."

Photo: Jim Trodel, Creative Commons

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Can anyone outline the sentencing policy in those European countries where the principle of Strict Liability applies, indicating that the judiciary is obliged to sentence offenders in situations where criminal intent is not proven. Are all serious cases deemed "reckless" or "criminal negligence"? These are two of the five levels of "mens rea" (criminal intent) used in English law. I gather that a charge of manslaughter requires a degree of intent to harm in order to stand and the CPS are usually reluctant to try to prove intent in cases of car on cycle road deaths. This surprised me, I thought that manslaughter was cut & dried as an accidental murder, but still a murder. Hence I gather it is the reluctance of the Judiciary to grasp the nettle of culpability in the absence of intent that means every potential manslaughter charge is dealt with as Death by Dangerous or Careless driving, and could ultimately stop the adoption of Strict Liability in England. We are going to need a carefully graduated scale of punishment for causing D by DD, and such a scale would still be required if we ever adopted Strict Liability. A new offence not requiring criminal intent of "Causing Death While Driving" should be added to the other two, a vehicle should be classed as a lethal weapon, the penalties would need to be carefully weighed according to circumstances, but all drivers would be left in no doubt that they will be committing a serious offence if they do not treat vulnerable road users with respect at all times. This addition to the law would reach every nook and cranny of the country at once at minimal cost to the nation. Strict Liability by a back door if you like, but possibly acceptable to the CPS.
Sincerely yours
Geoff Brandt