MPs and bereaved families discuss criminal driving

MPs and relatives of road crash victims came together yesterday to discuss the justice system’s handling of criminal driving and the desperate improvements needed in order to ensure victims get access to justice.

CTC attended the discussion which was organised and chaired by Greg Mulholland, MP for Leeds North West (Lib Dem). The discussion centred around standards of collision investigations, charging decisions, sentencing levels and the treatment of victims - all issues which CTC has been campaigning on via its Road Justice campaign

Mr Mulholland has been supporting two families in his constituency who have both lost loved ones to irresponsible drivers and have been campaigning for change. They are the families of Jamie Still and David and Dorothy Metcalfe, all killed by drunk and speeding drivers. They attended the discussion along with many other grieving families to share their story with parliamentarians in the hope that more MPs will join the campaign for justice.  

Among those taking part were Alok Sharma MP, who recently led a debate in about the sentencing of dangerous driving.  Other participants included representatives from the national road safety charity Brake, the national charity for road crash victims RoadPeace and Cyclists Defence Fund trustee Martyn Bolt.

We need better, fairer, more obvious justice for victims and their families

Greg Mulholland MP

With the Government’s review of driving offences and penalties planned to conclude by the end of 2015, it is important to shine a spotlight on the myriad ways that the justice system fails to issue justice when it comes to victims of road crime. This discussion was therefore a timely way for people directly affected by road crime and an inadequate justice system to air their grievances to those who can carry this message to the decision makers.

Stories of loss

Many heart-rending stories of loss were shared with those present, made all the more tragic by the appalling way in which several of the cases were dealt with and by the lenient sentences handed to offending drivers.  

There were many trends in the stories, which emphasised the fact that the majority of problems with the criminal justice system are systemic: they are not one-off errors, they are failures produced by the system itself and oft repeated (see below for a list of some of the problems discussed). For this reason, radical system change is needed if families and victims are ever to receive adequate justice.

Some of the problems raised during the discussion:

  • The power to impose interim driving bans as a condition of bail is rarely used. Many drivers who kill are thus permitted to carry on driving until they are convicted, often in the same town where the victim’s family live.
  • Offenders are only required to serve half their custodial sentence in prison, so already weak sentences are made even weaker.
  • A third is discounted from the sentence if a defendant pleads guilty, even if the plea is entered at a late stage (this does not apply in Scotland).
  • A defendant’s expression of remorse results in a sentence discount, even if this remorse is only expressed in a letter to the judge and not to the victim or their family.
  • There are multiple support organisations for offenders but only one Victim Support organisation, which not all victims of road crime are entitled to support from.

Other non-systemic failures that were discussed included inadequate training of roads police resulting in poor evidence collection, and inherent victim blaming among the police, particularly in cases where pedestrians are the victims of road collisions (i.e. the police assume they must have been drunk/ not looking/ wearing dark clothing/ etc).

A manifesto for change

Mr Mulholland plans to collate the comments made at the discussion into a manifesto outlining key changes that all those present agree should be campaigned for. The aim of this manifesto is to influence the Government's offences and penalties review and to seek change in the run up to the 2015 general election. CTC will contribute in further detail to this manifesto.  

For more detailed information about the failings of the criminal justice system and CTC’s proposals for reform, see the following reports produced by the Road Justice campaign:

  1. The Role of the Police
  2. Charging and Prosecution
  3. The Courts and Sentencing